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Bowling Alley “Slip and Fall” Case Fails to Survive Summary Judgment

In a personal injury lawsuit, it’s critical to establish all of your facts before proceeding to court. It’s not enough to simply accuse someone of causing you an injury. There must be sufficient facts alleged to connect the injury to some action–or inaction–by the defendant. If a plaintiff can’t present such facts, the trial court will grant summary judgment to the defendant.

A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, Taylor v. Thunderbird Lanes, LLC, provides a useful example. In this case, the plaintiff was a woman who went to a local bowling alley with her son and daughter-in-law. The plaintiff was an experienced bowler who had patronized the alley before.

Bowling alleys commonly treat their lanes with oil in order to aid ball movement. Typically, such oil is used beyond the “foul line” behind which the bowler is expected to release his or her ball. There should be no oil or other obstruction in the area approaching the foul line.

The daughter-in-law bowled first without incident. The plaintiff bowled next. But as she approached the foul line, she slipped and fell, landing “on her back with her head nearly four feet past the foul line and her legs pointing toward the pins.” The plaintiff’s son said he saw “a significant amount of oil” on the lane–beyond the foul line–where his mother landed.

No Evidence of a “Hazardous Condition”

The plaintiff sued the owner of the bowling alley. She sought damages for her injuries sustained in the fall. During a deposition, the plaintiff testified she did not see any oil in the approach to the foul line. Her son and daughter-in-law said the same. For its part, the bowling alley presented evidence documenting its standards for oiling the lanes. Those standards specified oil should only be applied at least six inches beyond foul line on the side opposite the bowler.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the bowling alley, explaining that the plaintiff had not presented any “genuine issue of material fact” warranting a jury trial. The plaintiff appealed. The court of appeals, however, agreed with the trial court’s decision.

Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, said it wasn’t enough for a plaintiff to offer “guesses or speculation” regarding the cause of her injury. Here, Judge Dillard said, the plaintiff “offers only conjecture to support her conclusion that oil on the approach side” caused the fall. Yet none of the deposition testimony, from her or her family members, supported such a claim. Nor did any evidence produced by the bowling alley in response to the plaintiff’s inquiries suggest any improper maintenance of the lanes on the day in question.

Under Georgia law, a premises liability claim requires not only evidence that a “hazardous condition” existed, but that the owner “had superior knowledge” of this condition and failed to act. As far as the courts could tell in this case, no hazardous condition ever existed. Logically, therefore, the bowling alley could not have possessed “superior knowledge” of such a condition.