In 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.
Constructive knowledge can be shown by putting forward evidence that a dangerous condition was present as long as it would have been found and fixed if the occupier of the premises had used reasonable care to inspect the property. The plaintiff believed that the evidence raised questions about whether the defendant had adequate inspection procedures and whether he followed them. A property owner can be liable if the dangerous condition is on the premises for enough time that the owner should have found and taken away or repaired the danger.
In this case, the plaintiff had herself testified that there wasn’t water when she went into the bathroom, and she was there for only 5-10 minutes before falling. Evidence was not disputed that the water on which she slipped could have been there for only 10 minutes. The appellate court explained that it didn’t matter when the employees of the restaurant had conducted an inspection, since 10 minutes was insufficient as a matter of law to hold that the defendant should have found the water. It pointed to prior case law in which it was found that even 20 minutes was an insufficient amount of time for a business owner to find a foreign substance on the floor of a store, parking lot, or restaurant.
The plaintiff argued that the deposition testimony should be interpreted as meaning she simply didn’t see water when going into the stall. However, the plaintiff’s testimony had been a clear statement that there was no water when she went into the restroom. She didn’t say that she didn’t see water, nor did she make any efforts to explain or alter her testimony later in the deposition. Generally, in a summary judgment motion, a party who is a witness who leaves contradictory testimony unexplained must have this testimony construed against her, even if she is the one responding to the summary judgment motion. Since there was no evidence of superior knowledge, the appellate court affirmed.
The Atlanta premises liability attorneys at the Simon Law Firm have considerable experience representing families who have lost their loved ones due to negligence and other wrongful conduct, and they are prepared to assist you with a possible claim. If you believe you have a possibly meritorious claim and would like to discuss the options you may have for legal recovery, feel free to contact us to arrange a free case consultation.
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