Whether you can hold a property owner accountable for premises liability can depend partly on your reason for being on the property, whether you’re an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. In a recent Georgia premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff was hurt when she tripped and fell down the stairs in a man’s backyard. The defendant had allowed his friend to have a birthday party at his house. The friend wanted to sit on the back porch by the pool to listen to music at the birthday party. There were brick stairs in the backyard, which had tiers. He’d purchased the property 20 years before, and the stairs had been there when he bought it.
The plaintiff was a friend of the woman having her birthday at the defendant’s house. When the plaintiff got to the house, she walked on a path to the back of the defendant’s house and arrived at some brick stairs leading to the area by the pool. She claimed that the lights were dim in that area.
As the plaintiff walked down the stairs, she looked forward, but not down. Her foot hit something and this caused her to trip. Later when she was being carried into the house after the fall, she noticed that there was an orange extension cord lying over three or four stairs where she’d tripped. However, she hadn’t seen the extension cord before falling and didn’t know who placed the cord there or how long it had been there.
Earlier that day, the defendant had been doing some work in the backyard. He’d used equipment, but not an extension cord. He had gone to run errands before the party started and wasn’t back again until after the fall occurred. He didn’t see an extension cord when he walked back through the yard after doing his yard work and there was no cord there when he got back from his errands.
Around 5-10 guests were at the house on the night of the party. The plaintiff claimed there were a lot of people at his house.
In response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, defendant made a motion for summary judgment. He argued she was a licensee and that she had to prove willful or wanton conduct to establish his liability. She hadn’t presented evidence of willful or wanton conduct. The lower court denied his motion but granted him a certificate of immediate review.
On appeal, he argued that the lower court had made a mistake in denying his summary judgment motion. There was no evidence that he’d put the extension on the stairs or had reason to know it would be there.
The appellate court explained that since the plaintiff was indisputably a social guest on the defendant’s property, she was a licensee. In Georgia, a social guest is a licensee and the duty owed to an invitee is more than what’s owed to a licensee. While a property owner has a duty to invitees to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, the duty owed to a property owner under OCGA § 51-3-2 (b)is not to injure them wantonly or willfully. Generally, wanton misconduct involves actions that are so reckless they are equal in spirit to intentional misconduct. Willful misconduct occurs when there’s an actual intention to harm or inflict injury. It’s also willful or wanton not to use ordinary care to stop from hurting a person who’s known to be or may reasonably expect to be in a range of dangerous acts being committed or hidden dangers on one’s property.
A landowner can be held accountable for physical harm caused by a condition on the land, but only if (1) he knows or has reason to know of the condition and should realize it entails an unreasonable risk of harm to the licensees, (2) he should expect they can’t realize the danger on their own, (3) he doesn’t use reasonable care to make the condition safe or provide warning, and (4) the licensee has not reason to know of the danger. There’s no willful or wanton conduct where the risks are equally known to the licensee. The defendant concluded summary judgment should’ve been granted to the plaintiff because there wasn’t evidence the extension cord was there before he left to run errands and also no evidence he knew or had reason to know the cord was there and could endanger the people at the party.
The judgment was reversed.
If you were injured by a dangerous condition on somebody else’s property, premises liability attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert may be able to help you. He has over 20 years of experience representing injured clients in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.