bathroomIn a recent Georgia premises liability case, the court considered a slip and fall and again reiterated that these cases are very weak. A hotel guest sustained injuries when she slipped in the shower and fell. She was 65 years old, and she and her adult daughter had come to a hotel in Georgia that the daughter had pre-booked. On the following day, they were planning to visit family. The plaintiff had rheumatoid arthritis, and during check-in she asked for a handicap accessible room or a first floor room. There weren’t rooms like this available, so the woman and her daughter accepted adjacent rooms that were two stories up. It was late, and they couldn’t imagine trying to find a motel at that hour.

The next morning, the woman stepped into the bathtub, which seemed dry and clean. She went in and turned on the water and began lathering herself with the soap. Suddenly, her feet went out from under her, and she fell down. She crawled out of the tub and called her daughter. Her daughter came in to help her dress. They checked out of their rooms and left the hotel to go visit family.

The woman sued the owner and operator of the hotel. During her deposition, she was only able to say that she’d fallen because the tub was slippery. She didn’t know why the tub was slippery. She was standing, and suddenly her feet slipped out, but she didn’t know what had caused it. Her daughter had gone to look at the condition of the tub afterward, but she hadn’t. The daughter testified about what she’d seen and said that the tub was very slick, and it wasn’t because there was a lot of soap. She didn’t know what made the tub so slick.

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dogIn a 2017 Georgia dog bite case, a woman suffered serious injuries as a result of a dog attack. She and her husband sued the owners of the dogs and their landlord, claiming her injuries were due to the dog owners’ failure to stop their dogs from leaving their fenced backyard and the landlord’s failure to keep the gate latch in good repair.

The case arose when the landlord leased a home to a couple who moved in with their three kids and a dog. The home had a big backyard that was enclosed by a wooden fence. Months after the couple moved into the house, someone taking care of the lawn broke the front gate latch. The husband told the landlord the latch had been broken, but the latch was never repaired, and the husband and wife didn’t follow up. Instead, he secured the gate by tying it with a dog leash and placed weights and a cement block at the bottom. In spite of these precautions, the family’s dog escaped from the home and was hit by a car and killed.

The couple adopted two Pit Bull Terrier puppies that they kept in the yard during the day and in the basement overnight. The dogs didn’t show aggressive tendencies, and they played with the couple’s kids and nieces.

dogWhat happens where the dog owner is careful and has the dog on a leash but it lunges and bites? A recent Georgia dog bite decision arose after the plaintiff was bitten by a dog and sued the dog’s owner for negligence per se and other causes of action.  The key issue is whether the dog owner complies with the local laws. In this case the local law required the owner to keep the animal under control and the plaintiff argued that is exactly what they did not due. The trial court gave an automatic win to the plaintiff on summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The case arose when a six-foot-tall woman was walking her 80-pound dog in the park one summer day. The dog was on a two-foot leash. The plaintiff was supervising a delivery of equipment for a concert in the park. When the woman and her dog walked toward the cab where he was, the dog lunged and bit him. The woman didn’t see the plaintiff until after he was bitten.

She would later testify at deposition that she’d pulled the dog away after the bite, but she couldn’t restrain the dog during the moment that he lunged. She argued she was able to physically restrain the dog, but the dog had acted instinctively, quickly, and unexpectedly. She testified that the dog hadn’t acted like this before. However, a police officer issued her an arrest citation for violating a city ordinance.

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poolA recent Georgia wrongful death decision arose from a lawsuit that involved the drowning of a small child. Our firm is currently handling a sad case involving a five year old who climbed the fence of a closed pool because the fence had improper handholds available to allow it to be climbed. Our case is in litigation which will hopefully result in changes to the pool fence and the way management assesses danger. Sadly in the case below, the tragedy could not be averted and there was no legal liability.

On the Fourth of July in 2014, a four-year-old boy drowned in a community swimming pool that was for the people who lived in a particular residential community and their guests. The child was at the pool with his mother and relatives, none of whom lived there. His aunt had given them her pool key card so that they could go to that pool, but she wasn’t present.

The pool was crowded, and the four-year-old was underwater for almost five minutes before someone found him. His mother and a nurse tried to resuscitate him. It took emergency personnel 20 minutes to get there. The boy died.

His father sued the Homeowners’ Association, its management company, and the property manager. He asserted that the boy’s death was a result of negligent pool management. Summary judgment was granted for the defendants. The lower court found the boy was a trespasser, so the only duty owed to him was of not willfully or wantonly hurting him, and they hadn’t breached that duty. The father appealed.

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sunsetIn a recent Georgia injury case, the court considered the drowning of a 20-year-old college student while he was studying abroad in Costa Rica. His university offered students a 12-day trip. They had to pay a fee that went toward the trip expenses as well as a per credit tuition rate and were supposed to get four credits toward their degree for academic work they did in connection with the trip.

The university retained a tour operator to provide a guide, transportation, and coordination. Later, the director of the program would testify that the university tried to follow best practices, including safety procedures for the students. He acknowledged that students went swimming on the trips, but he hadn’t done any investigation to decide whether Costa Rica had any potential dangers.

In a meeting with the students who registered for the program, two professors asked them if everyone was a good swimmer. The students said they were. The group talked about swimming in the ocean and discussed that there were currents. A professor advised that in a prior trip, a student realized he was a weak swimmer and had to wear a life jacket in the water. The students claimed to be good swimmers even after hearing this. They signed a release that included an exculpatory clause related to the university.

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elevatorIn a recent Georgia appellate case, the plaintiff had been hurt while riding an elevator at a medical center. He sued the medical center and the contractor that maintained the elevator.

The case arose when the plaintiff went to pick up his wife and daughter from the seventh floor. The daughter was recovering from surgery on the prior day. The plaintiff and another person got into the third elevator and pushed buttons for their floors. The elevator went up to the third or fourth floor but then crashed downward into something solid. The plaintiff grabbed a handrail that stopped him from falling to the floor of the elevator. The other passenger tried to get the door open and pushed the emergency button.

The person who came to help them told them the elevator can was 1 1/2 feet below the floor level, and he was going to get assistance. Twenty minutes later, several people were helping, and from inside the elevator, the passengers could feel shaking. The floors opened five minutes later, with the elevator on the ninth floor and the car level with the floor. The plaintiff’s neck, knees, legs, and feet were hurt in the process.

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sinksIn a recent Georgia appellate case, the plaintiff sued the defendant for damages after slipping and falling in the chain restaurant that he owned and operated. He moved for summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, which was granted.

The case arose when the plaintiff went to the defendant’s restaurant for dinner in 2013. She ate and then went to the restroom, where she used the handicap stall. She used it and stayed in the stall for 5-10 minutes before leaving. After two steps, she fell and twisted her ankle and hurt her back. She testified at deposition that she’d slipped on water, but she also testified there wasn’t water on the floor when she went into the restroom and went into the bathroom stall.

The appellate court explained that simply falling wasn’t enough to hold a property owner liable. Instead, to show liability in a premises liability claim, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate superior knowledge by the property owner or occupier. This superior knowledge can be actual or constructive. In this case, the plaintiff didn’t claim that the defendant had actual knowledge of the water on the floor but only that there were factual questions about whether the restaurant owner had constructive knowledge.

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At the beginning of this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Thomas v. Tenet Healthsystem GB, Inc., Ga. Ct. App. (2017), that clarified in which sorts of cases a subsequent negligence claim in a medical negligence case can relate back to the initial filing.

In May of 2012, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident, and transported on a backboard by the paramedics to the emergency room for treatment of her injuries. Upon arrival to the defendant hospital’s emergency room, her treating doctor ordered a CT scan in order to determine whether she had incurred any spinal injuries. The results of the scan were then sent to a second doctor, who read them in his home and purportedly communicated to the treating doctor his opinion that there had been no cervical spinal injury. The treating doctor then reportedly instructed a nurse to remove the cervical spine collar that the plaintiff had on, and to discharge her from the hospital.

When the plaintiff’s relative arrived to pick her up from the hospital, he reportedly found her slumped over and unresponsive in a wheelchair. Following re-examination, it was determined that she did have a fracture in her cervical spine. It was believed that the removal of the cervical collar caused a cervical fracture to displace, thus resulting in spinal cord damage, rendering the plaintiff quadriplegic.

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car accidentIn any personal injury case, medical records and expert opinions with regard to injuries can be important in helping to establish the cause of the injuries. It can be difficult to prove exactly how an accident may have occurred absent external objective measures, such as video recordings. Medical records and the opinions of medical doctors, however, can provide additional, factually based evidence that can help judges and juries reach determinations of fault or liability. In a recent case, Rangel v. Anderson, S.D. Ga. (2016), the court engaged in an extensive review of the factors required in order for physician testimony to be allowed in the capacity of “retained expert” opinion.

The case arose out of a car accident in which the plaintiff claimed the defendant rear-ended her vehicle, causing injuries. Following the accident, the plaintiff sought medical treatment for neck and back pain from several physicians. The plaintiff sought to introduce evidence from one of her treating physicians in an expert witness capacity but failed to identify the doctor as an expert witness by the necessary deadline. The plaintiff also failed to provide a written report of the doctor’s opinion.

The defendant sought to exclude certain opinions offered by the doctor but agreed at a hearing that the doctor could provide factual testimony regarding the treatment of the plaintiff. The defendant sought to prevent the doctor from offering opinion testimony, based on the plaintiff’s failure to properly disclose him as a retained expert and based on the failure to provide the written report as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendant further argued that the opinion failed to meet the reliability standards set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

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townhousesA recent Georgia premises liability and wrongful death case shows how apportionment law can complicate a solid case.

The victim was murdered in the parking lot of a gated community. His wife sued the condominium complex and its security firm for negligence in failing to keep the premises safe despite numerous prior shootings. Remember that under Georgia law a property owner or manager is only liable for the third party crime if there were prior similar crimes enough to put the owner or manager on notice of the likelihood of more violence.

The case went to trial against the condominium association and security firm, and the jury found for the spouse, awarding her more than $3 million in damages for wrongful death.

Fault was apportioned among the defendants, with 25% of the fault apportioned to the condominium, 25% to the security firm, and the remainder against the assailants who’d murdered the victim. The condominium association argued that it should only be 25% to blame instead of also owing the 25% apportioned to the security company under a vicarious liability for a non-delegable duty theory as argued by the plaintiff.

The condominium appealed the trial court’s decision to deny its motion for a directed verdict and the trial court’s decision to find it liable for the security company’s share of fault. The wife cross-appealed the trial court’s decision before trial not to stop the condominium from arguing it wasn’t legally responsible for its security firm and the security guard, and she also appealed the denial of her motion to prevent the apportionment of fault between the condominium and security firm.

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