Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Georgia slip and fall cases are all about knowledge. To win one of these cases, the store has to know more about the spill than you do, either because it has been there for a while or because they had employees in the area. The corollary is, if you have reason to know about it, you cannot blame them when you fall. Therefore,  one of the most challenging issues plaintiffs in Georgia slip-and-fall cases encounter is the burden to establish that the defendant’s knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was greater than their own. A recent appellate decision issued by the Court of Appeals of Georgia illustrates the difficulties a plaintiff may face when attempting to establish not only a defendant’s knowledge of the hazard, but also their own lack of knowledge.

SpigotThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was running an errand for her employer, which required her to pick up an item at the defendant’s shop. It was a cold day, and when she arrived, she noticed that there was a patch of partially frozen water at the base of the steps leading up to the front door of the shop. Upon closer inspection, the plaintiff realized that the water was coming from a spigot that had been left open so that it would not freeze in the cold weather.

The plaintiff made her way around the ice and up the stairs into the shop, where she encountered an employee. She notified the employee of the ice, and he suggested she leave out of a different door. However, the employee told the plaintiff not to let anyone else know he had given her permission to exit through the alternate door, because it could get him fired.

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A hunter went out on a piece of rural property and fell down a well and died and then his family tried to sue the land owner because of the hidden well. The Court of Appeals took a hard look at the immunity for hunting statute and rendered an opinion that squarely rebuffs any attempts like this. The Court of Appeals of Georgia issued the opinion in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit discussing the applicability of the state’s recreational-use statute to the plaintiff’s case. The court ultimately held that the defendant landowner was entitled to immunity because the plaintiff’s husband was on his land for the purposes of hunting, which was covered under the recreational-use statute.

Legal News GavelThe Recreational-Use Statute

Under OCGA § 51-3-20 and OCGA § 27-3-1 (e), a landowner who “gives permission to another person to hunt, fish, or take wildlife upon the land with or without charge” “may not be held liable for personal injuries resulting from unsafe or defective conditions existing on the premises.”

The Facts of the Case

The defendant leased land to another man who planned on starting up a hunting club. The lease limited the hunting club’s use of the land to hunting purposes only, and, while the lease did not name anyone else in the document itself, the lease did contemplate that there would be others entering the land to hunt.

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In most Georgia personal injury lawsuits, a party is asked for their version of the events several times before the case proceeds to trial. This may be through police investigations, pre-trial interrogatories, or depositions, or even through casual conversations with bystanders. Given the effect that time has on one’s memory, it is not uncommon for a party’s version of events to change slightly over time.

Wet Floor SignWhen a party’s story changes, however, courts can be presented with a difficult situation. For example, sometimes under one set of facts, a plaintiff has a strong case, but under another set of facts, the plaintiff’s case is much weaker. This puts the court in the position of determining which version of the events to credit. A recent Georgia premises liability decision issued by the Court of Appeals of Georgia sheds some light on how courts handle these conflicts.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an office manager at a business that was located in a building owned by the defendant. One day, the plaintiff, who was the first to arrive at the office, slipped on a puddle that had formed near the rear office. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries to her back and wrist. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant, claiming that the property was negligently maintained.

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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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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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Legal News GavelIn 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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Last month the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia rendered a highly relevant opinion concerning a personal injury claim. The opinion in S.G. v. TJX Companies, Inc., et al., (M.D. Ga 2017) is instructive because in it the court interpreted how the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure section regarding amended complaints filed after the statute of limitations has run applies, with regard to Georgia’s statute of limitations, as well as rules relating to amending back for personal injury cases.

legalnewsThe complaint arose out of an incident where the plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell inside of a retail store in Columbus Georgia in June of 2014. The plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the defendant store’s parent corporation in May of 2016. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint attempting to add an additional defendant corporation in October of 2016. The defendant corporation filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the plaintiff’s claim was untimely. According to the court, the plaintiff failed to respond to the motion to dismiss.

The issue at hand was that the plaintiff was attempting to add an additional defendant after the relevant statute of limitations had passed. Under Georgia law, personal injury actions must be brought within two years after the time of the incident. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (2010). Here, the plaintiff had until two years after her alleged slip and fall to file her complaint. She did file her original complaint before the relevant time period had passed. However, her original complaint had only named the initial defendant parent corporation, and did not include the subsequent corporation. The issue, then, was whether the plaintiff was entitled to any legal exception allowing her to add in the second defendant.

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Legal News GavelThe Georgia Recreational Property Act, O.C.G.A. § 51-3-20 et seq., generally immunizes both private and governmental property owners from many forms of negligence liability when the owner of such property makes it available for recreational purposes free of charge. In a recent decision, The Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Garden City v. Harris, the Georgia Court of Appeals dealt with an interesting issue of first impression regarding the application of this expansive law. Specifically, the Court of Appeals needed to determine whether a city was immunized from liability if it did not charge the injured person a fee but charged others a fee to use the property.

The incident at issue in Harris occurred on November 10, 2012. On that day, a family, which included a young child, attended a youth football game at Garden City Stadium, a recreational facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. The entrance gate of the facility—at which there was a no-trespassing sign posted—was located next to a ticket booth. The admittance fee structure was as follows. Spectators under the age of six were not charged a fee, children older than six were charged $1, and adults were charged $2. The parents paid the applicable admittance fees for themselves and their children older than six. Their young daughter, however, was under the age of six and therefore was not charged a fee. During the game, the young daughter and her siblings left the bleachers where they had been seated with their parents to procure goods from the concession stand. While returning to the seats, the young child slipped and fell through a space between the bleachers and landed on the ground below. As a result of the fall, she sustained various injuries.

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Legal News GavelIn 2008, the Georgia legislature enacted the “Business Security and Employee Privacy Act,” O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135, which generally prohibits an employer from restricting an employee from bringing a licensed firearm onto the employer’s parking lot. In addition to protecting employees’ right to bring firearms onto business property under certain circumstances, the law immunizes businesses from criminal or civil liability arising from “the transportation, storage, possession, or use” of such firearms. O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135 (e). Although there are numerous exceptions under the Act, liability associated with employee firearm injuries is far more circumscribed than it was previously. For instance, in a recent decision, Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc., the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of claims against an employer whose employee shot someone else while making a delivery.

The shooting at issue in Lucas occurred on July 10, 2013. On that day, a field-service engineer employed by Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”), a biomedical testing equipment company, arrived at Albany Area Primary Healthcare (“AAPH”), where the engineer was scheduled to perform maintenance work on BCI equipment located at the facility. Upon his arrival at the facility, which was around 10:00 a.m., the field-service agent observed that the equipment on which he was supposed to perform maintenance was in use and returned to the parking lot to wait. When he returned to the parking lot, the field-service agent saw an AAPH lab technician with whom he was familiar taking a break. The two chatted for a few minutes, and while they were returning inside AAPH, the lab technician mentioned that there had been a spate of car burglaries in the parking lot. This news concerned the field-service engineer, for although it violated BCI policy, he often carried his personal firearm in the company vehicle while making service stops and was worried that it might be stolen. Accordingly, upon hearing this information, the field-service engineer returned to the BCI vehicle to retrieve his gun. Shortly after entering the building, the field-service engineer attempted to clear his weapon, but as he was doing so, the gun discharged, which resulted in a bullet striking the field-service engineer in the hand and the lab technician in the abdomen.

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bicyclistSituated just outside Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park serves as a venue for many important Metro Atlanta outdoor events. Although most are characterized only by revelry, not all go off without incident. Indeed, one such unfortunate event was at the heart of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Stone Mountain Mem. Assn. v. Amestoy, which involved the untimely death of a bicyclist at Stone Mountain.

Viewed in a light favorable to the plaintiff, the widow of the deceased bicyclist, the evidence is as follows. At around 7:30 a.m. on the day of the bicyclist’s death, members of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association Public Safety Department were making preparations on Robert E. Lee Blvd. in anticipation for a 5K run that was set to begin at 8 a.m. These preparations included the placement of side-by-side barricades across the southbound lanes of Robert E. Lee Blvd. The barricade had orange and white strips and bore “do not enter” signs. An official was stationed near the barricade, but he left suddenly at one point in order to urinate. While the official was in the restroom, a different department official saw two bicyclists maneuver around the barricades. About five to ten minutes later, the deceased man was observed riding his bike toward the same barricades at what one witness described as a “normal” speed. The deceased man had his head down, and as he traveled between the barricades, his bike made contact with one of them, causing him to be thrown off. Although he was wearing a helmet, the victim suffered head trauma, which ultimately led to his death.

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