Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

slipping-98713_640-300x300The 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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standsThe 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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gunIn 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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martian-mold-1556041-300x225When one hears that a legal dispute has arisen between a landlord and tenant, one tends to think that the issues are related to rent. However, a variety of legal conundrums, including those related to negligence, can arise between a landlord and tenant. For instance, in a recent decision, McCarney v. PA Lex Glen, LLC, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an interesting issue regarding whether a landlord can be held liable for a persistent mold problem that caused harm to a tenant’s health.

The facts at issue in McCarney started in August 2012, when the plaintiff moved into an apartment complex in Sandy Spring, Georgia. The plaintiff resided at the complex until September 2013.  In or around late August of that year, he spoke with tenants who lived above him about possible mold in the building. On that day, the plaintiff inspected the ventilation in his apartment and found what was described as a black substance. The plaintiff’s roommate also searched and found that the air conditioning system was leaking into his closet and that the wall of the closet was covered in a large swatch of the black substance. The records showed that the plaintiff’s apartment also suffered from a variety of other leaking and cooling issues. On September 3, the plaintiff e-mailed the management company of the apartment complex, demanding that the mold problem be abated. An agent for the management company came to the apartment and later testified that he did not see any mold but that he did, however, hire a mold contamination company to perform an inspection and authorized a duct replacement if necessary. The plaintiff independently hired a mold analysis company to perform an inspection. On September 25, the plaintiff notified the management company that he was canceling his lease because of mold contamination. Earlier in his tenancy at the apartment complex, the plaintiff had been receiving several treatments for sinus aliments, including a sinus surgery.

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We regularly review the verdict reporters for details about case verdicts and settlements to stay abreast of legal developments. We have written extensively before about how difficult slip and fall cases on rainy days can be and yet another defense verdict out of the US District Court for Atlanta affirms this.

The beginning legal issue with all slip and fall cases is; who has superior knowledge of the slippery danger. Store owners are not automatically legally liable for a fall just because it occurs on their land; there must be knowledge of a danger and a negligent failure to address it or warn the customer.

The problem with rainy day or “natural accumulation” cases is that when it rains, everyone its wet out and that water will be tracked in on your shoes and the shoes of other customers. That knowledge that floors can be slippery when wet is universal; I mean Bon Jovi named their album after it, so Courts can take judicial notice.

elevator-buttons-1542339Elevators are among the tremendously useful inventions of the modern era. Indeed, buildings would have never reached even half of the astronomical heights they have attained in the elevator’s absence. Along with being a modern necessity, however, elevators can be incredibly dangerous when not properly maintained. Although a shoddy cable breaking is the most worrisome concern, even more minor failures in elevator upkeep can lead to injury. Indeed, the smaller risks posed by poor elevator maintenance were at the center of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Hill v. Cole CC Kennesaw GA, LLC.

Hill arose from a trip and fall accident at a building where the plaintiff was employed. On the day of the accident, an elevator repair technician employed by Kone, Inc. performed preventative maintenance work on the elevator at issue as well as three others located in the building. At around 5 p.m., after purportedly completing this maintenance work, the technician left. However, about five hours later, the employee entered the elevator with a coworker. The trip was uneventful except that when the elevator reached the desired floor, the base of the elevator did not line up with the edge of the floor. Unaware of the mis-leveling issue, the plaintiff tripped while exiting and hit her head against a metal pole located inside the elevator. The plaintiff’s coworker pressed another button and was returned to the lobby, where she sought assistance for the plaintiff. After this string of events, which included the plaintiff’s journey to the emergency room, a different building occupant noticed the leveling problem and reported the issue to management.

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artificial-lake-2-1535244-1920x1440The guiding principle of negligence liability is that one should be accountable for injuries occasioned by a failure to act with reasonable care. Since reasonableness is the guiding principle for negligence liability, it follows that one should not be held liable when the events leading to the injury, even if foreseeable in theory, are not likely to occur such that there is no reasonable expectation that one should prepare for them. This underlying principle was at the heart of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Allan v. Jefferson Lakeside L.P., which addressed whether the owner of an apartment complex could be liable for failing to install guardrails around an artificial lake on the property.

The tragic events at issue in this case occurred in May 1, 2010 at an apartment complex owned by the defendant. The plaintiffs had moved into the complex a few months earlier, and on this day the uncle of the plaintiffs’ son came to pick up the child and the child’s father, who was the brother of the driver. This was not the uncle’s first visit to the complex. While driving down the access road with his brother and the child, who was strapped in the backseat, he stopped on the side of the access road in order to retrieve cigarettes from the glove compartment. When his brother opened the glove compartment, the driver saw his navigation system and asked his brother to hand it to him. While he was mounting the navigation system on the dashboard, the driver unintentionally released his foot from the brake and pressed the accelerator, which caused the car to jump the curb and go down a slope that led to an artificial lake that was about only 14 feet from the curb. The car submerged, and although the driver and his brother were able to escape, the child drowned.

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photo_21494_20120212-224x300Among the most common defenses in negligence litigation is assumption of risk. Assumption of risk was originally an affirmative defense that absolutely insulated a defendant from liability if it was shown that the plaintiff assumed the risk that resulted in injury. Today, however, assumption of risk has become part of the balancing courts and juries undertake when assessing comparative or contributory negligence. Georgia, which has a modified comparative negligence regime, bars recovery when it is shown that a plaintiff’s negligence contributed more than 50% to his or her resulting injuries. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33(g). Given that recovery can either be barred or offset based on a plaintiff’s assumption of risk, defendants in negligence cases will often try to assert the theory’s applicability when confronted with allegations of negligence. For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently ruled in Smith v. NT Nails, LLC. on whether a plaintiff who walked across a recently mopped floor had “assumed” the risk of falling.

The appeal in Smith followed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Looking at the evidence in a light favorable to the plaintiff, the record showed that on the night of her injury, the plaintiff went to the defendant nail salon for a manicure and a pedicure. The plaintiff was the last customer at the salon, and staff had begun cleaning and preparing the salon for closing. While the plaintiff was receiving her pedicure, an employee mopped the salon floor. When a technician finished the plaintiff’s pedicure, she gave the plaintiff a pair of rubber slippers to wear. The plaintiff stood up and walked across the wet floor to the register. After paying for the services, the plaintiff slipped on the floor, resulting in an accident. Following discovery, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that it was undisputed that the plaintiff assumed a known risk when she opted to navigate the wet floor.
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LawAlthough trial is the stage of litigation that many consider to be the key moment for legal argument, many critical battles over the admissibility of evidence, venue and the applicability of certain laws take place long before trial, assuming the case even gets that far. The initiation of litigation often leads to immediate procedural bickering over whether the case has been brought before the proper court or should be dismissed or otherwise transferred to a different venue. Among these procedural arguments raised at the onset of litigation is whether an action that has been brought in state court should be removed to federal court. Although plaintiffs typically have the right to bring a case in the setting of their choice, as long as that court has subject matter jurisdiction over the issues raised and personal jurisdiction over the parties involved, defendants can, under certain circumstances, move to have a case that has been brought in a state court removed to federal court. Given the differences in rules that can apply in these venues, determining whether removal is justified can have an impact on the outcome of a case. Arguments common in removal proceedings are highlighted in Watson v. Forest City Commercial Management, Inc., a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

The Watson case arose from an incident at The Mall at Stonecrest in DeKalb County, Georgia. During a trip to the mall, the plaintiff in this action alleges that she was attacked by several third parties. Although third parties carried out the attack, the plaintiff brought a legal action against Stonecrest Mall and North American Midway Entertainment-All-Star Amusement, Inc. (“Midway”), asserting claims for negligence and premises liability. Although proving negligence when there is an intervening third-party criminal act is already a demanding undertaking, the defendants created further trouble for the plaintiff by moving, only 20 days after the initiation of the action, to have the case removed to federal court from the State Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, where it had originally been filed. In response to the defendants’ Notice of Removal, the plaintiff argued that removal was unwarranted because both defendants did not properly join the removal action, one defendant made an untimely answer, and both defendant corporations are “citizens” of Georgia, which would render the federal court without jurisdiction over the case. Thus, the federal court, which was now exercising control over the case, needed to determine whether removal was warranted.

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