Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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In a premises liability case, Georgia law holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she had “equal or greater” knowledge of a hazard relative to the defendant. In other words, if you know there is a dangerous condition on someone else’s property and, in spite of that knowledge, you are injured, a judge may reject your personal injury lawsuit against the property owner.

Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how the question of a plaintiff’s “superior or equal” knowledge is dealt with in practice. The plaintiff was a tanker driver who delivered gasoline to a gas station owned and managed by the defendants. On the day in question, the plaintiff was making a delivery. The defendants required the plaintiff to manually measure the underground tank levels before and after each delivery. As the plaintiff later testified, he knew other drivers who had been “fired on the spot” for failing to follow this policy.

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Premises liability refers to a property owner’s responsibility for certain torts that occur within said property. A common example is a slip-and-fall accident. Let’s say you are shopping and slip on a puddle of water in the middle of the store, causing you to fall and injure yourself. The store owner may be liable if you can prove he or she was negligent in failing to notice and clean up the puddle.

How does premises liability work if the property is rented? In other words, if the store owner leases its space from another entity, such as a shopping center, is the landlord also liable for injuries to patrons? As a general rule, the answer is no. Georgia law expressly states that a landlord who has “fully parted with possession” of a property–i.e., leased it to a tenant–is not “responsible to third persons for damages” arising from the tenant’s negligence. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. First, a landlord can be held liable for “defective construction” of the leased building itself. Second, the landlord may be liable for “damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.”

Pajaro v. South Georgia Bank

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A homeowner’s insurance policy offers important protections for both property owners and individuals who may suffer a personal injury on the subject property. But the precise scope of coverage depends on the language of the policy. For example, many homeowner’s policies exclude coverage for injuries suffered by tenants who rent the home from its owner.

State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Moss

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered the nature of a tenant exclusion in a homeowner’s policy that is the subject of a personal injury lawsuit. The homeowner in this case owned two properties, her primary residence and a lake home. She purchased a homeowner’s policy to cover both properties, listing the lake home as her “secondary residence.”

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While many premises liability claims are based on the existence of a physical hazard—i.e., a customer slips and falls on a puddle of water—there are also cases in which a property owner may be liable for the criminal acts of third parties that cause personal injury to a patron. Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed the issue of how long a crime victim has to file such a claim.

Harrison v. McAfee

In June 2011, a group of masked men robbed a restaurant in Macon, Georgia. During the robbery, one of the assailants shot a restaurant patron. To date, none of the alleged criminals have been identified or arrested.

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One of the most common types of personal injury claims against the owner of a business or other premises is the “slip and fall.” Essentially, there is a hazardous condition on a given property that causes a visitor to slip, fall, and suffer some form of serious injury. Under Georgia law, the premises owner may be liable if he or she knew—or should have known—about such an “unreasonably dangerous” condition and failed to take appropriate steps to remedy it.

Alsip v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

Proving whether an “unreasonably dangerous” condition exists often requires a careful examination of the facts surrounding a particular accident. A Georgia judge will not simply take a plaintiff at his or her word that there was a hazardous condition. To the contrary, it is often necessary for a plaintiff to employ one or more technical experts who can explain to the court why the premises owner failed to act in an appropriate manner.

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A homeowner’s insurance policy typically covers the policyholder’s liability for personal injury claims that occur on the property. For example, if someone slips and falls in your home and subsequently sues you, your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay for any damages. But not every injury that occurs on a property is necessarily covered by a homeowner’s policy, which can leave a defendant on the hook for potentially millions in damages while making it more difficult for the injury victim to receive prompt compensation.

Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Herndon

One common homeowner’s insurance policy exclusion is for criminal acts. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of such an exclusion. This case has its roots in an extramarital affair. The defendant was a married man in an “intimate relationship” with another woman, who also assisted him with maintaining his rental properties.

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If you are injured on someone else’s property, the owner may be liable for negligence. This is known in Georgia as “premises liability.” A common type of premises liability occurs when a customer slips and falls in a store due to a hazardous condition. If the store had “superior knowledge” of the hazard and the customer exercised “ordinary care” for his or her own safety, then a jury may find the store liable under premises liability.

Stephens v. Kmart Corporation

Premises liability cases tend to be highly fact-specific. Here is a recent example from here in Georgia. In this case, the plaintiff was shopping with her husband at a store in Tifton, Georgia. She was browsing through a series of clothing racks set up on the sidewalk in front of the store’s entrance. While attempting to move between the racks, the plaintiff’s “foot stepped off the curb, causing her to fall on the asphalt.” She sustained a serious injury to her back as a result.

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Georgia law prohibits individuals from carrying “weapons” in any public school. There are exceptions for law enforcement who need to carry firearms in carrying out their official duties. But the Georgia legislature has made it clear that schools are supposed to be “gun free zones.”

Boatright v. Copeland

There was an interesting personal injury lawsuit recently before the Georgia Court of Appeals. The plaintiff was “assisting in loading and firing a cannon owned by the Appling County School District.” The cannon was used outdoors during Appling County High School’s football games. The plaintiff was compressing gunpowder in the cannon with a rod when the cannon suddenly discharged, causing permanent injury to the plaintiff’s right hand. The plaintiff subsequently sued the school district, as well as the superintendent of schools and individual school board members.

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In a premises liability case—that is, a personal injury lawsuit arising when someone is injured on another person’s property—the plaintiff must generally prove that the property owner possessed “superior knowledge” of the defective condition that caused the alleged injury. In other words, the danger must be known to the owner but not to the plaintiff. This does not mean a property owner in every case can simply plead ignorance to a hazardous condition. Nor does it mean that he or she can try to shift the blame to a third party, such as a contractor who worked on the property.

Hill v. Cole CC Kenesaw GA, LLC

An ongoing Georgia case illustrates how the law may protect injury victims in certain situations. The plaintiff in this case worked in an office building. On the evening in question, the plaintiff and a co-worker entered an elevator to leave the building. The elevator stopped at a point such that it was not level with the floor. The plaintiff subsequently tripped, hit her on head on a railing inside the elevator, and had to be taken to the hospital.

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Can a property owner be held liable for persons injured due to gang-related activity on or near their premises? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question. The appeals court was asked to review a $35 million verdict issued against a popular Cobb County theme park after a man was savagely beaten following an incident in the facility’s parking lot.

Six Flags Over Georgia II LP v. Martin

As the Court of Appeals explained in its opinion, the theme park is “located in a well-known, high-crime area, which has been the site of numerous instances of criminal gang activity.” There had also been a number of reported incidents where violence inside the park “spilled over” to outside locations.