Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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Any Georgia business that opens its doors to the public must take care to keep its premises in reasonably safe condition. This is especially important when dealing with young children, who are more prone to accidents than adults. While it may not be possible to completely child-proof a business establishment in the same manner as a home, business proprietors must still strive to identify and eliminate obvious hazards that could seriously injure or kill an innocent child.

Holt v. Marriott International, Inc.

On November 15, two parents filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court alleging negligence on the part of multiple defendants in the tragic death of their 5-year-old son. The lead defendants own and operate a popular rotating restaurant in downtown Atlanta. One day this past April, the plaintiffs and their two small children, including the victim, had lunch at this restaurant, which is actually built on a platform that rotates around a stationary core, affording patrons a 360-degree view of Atlanta.

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In a premises liability case, a defendant may be held responsible for failing to post proper warning signs regarding a hazard on the property, such as a “wet floor” sign near a puddle of water. These types of slip and fall cases are highly fact-specific, however, and what constitutes an inadequate warning in one case may be deemed insufficient to prove the defendant’s liability in another case.

Vineyard Industries, Inc. v. Bailey

Here is an example in which the defendant was held liable. This is a recent Georgia slip and fall case involving a popular fast food restaurant. The victim is a minor who went to the defendant’s restaurant one morning for breakfast. After placing her order, she used the restroom. Upon exiting the restroom, she passed the restaurant’s drink machine, where she slipped and fell on the wet floor.

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Personal injury claims based on premises liability under Georgia law generally revolve around two questions. First, did the property owner have knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries? Second, did the plaintiff have “equal or superior” knowledge of the same hazard, thereby absolving the defendant of any potential liability?

Stewart v. Brown

Here is a simple illustration of how courts examine these questions in practice. This is taken from a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. In this case, a trial judge granted summary judgment to the defendant in a slip-and-fall case. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and returned the case for trial on the merits.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people die every day in the United States due to “unintentional drowning.” Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are especially at risk. Among this age group, drowning is the leading cause of death aside from congenital birth defects.

Frazier v. Godley Park Homeowners Association, Inc.

Most child drowning deaths occur in residential swimming pools. In some cases, the pool owner’s negligence may be the proximate cause of the child’s death. You should not assume that just because a child suffers a fatal or non-fatal drowning, the owner is automatically liable. To the contrary, under Georgia law, a swimming pool owner “is not an insurer of its safety.”

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While premises liability is often associated with commercial businesses (think a slip-and-fall at the supermarket), any property owner may be held responsible if an invited guest is injured. This is why homeowners insurance policies typically offer liability coverage. For instance, if someone falls down the stairs at your house, your homeowners insurance will cover the medical bills.

Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Roberts

What if someone is injured on your property in a criminal act? Insurers often try to disclaim coverage in such situations. But depending on the precise wording of the policy, the insurer may still be liable.

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Last year we discussed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision ordering a new trial in a premises liability case involving a well-known theme park in Cobb County. The case began when two patrons and their families were repeatedly threatened by rival gangs who were known to frequent the theme park. Even after some of the gang members threatened to shoot the patrons in the parking lot, park security failed to eject the assailants.

Shortly thereafter, a group of about 40 gang members did, in fact, approach the families in the parking lot, which was still on theme park property. Although the families escaped the approaching mob, some of the gang members proceeded to beat a bystander who happened to be seated at a bus stop near the park’s entrance.

The bystander later sued four of the men who attacked him. He also named the theme park owner as a defendant under Georgia’s premises liability law. A jury eventually found the plaintiff was entitled to $35 million in damages and apportioned 92% of the blame to the theme park.

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Premises liability refers to a landowner’s legal duty to “exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court. In other words, if you own a building and invite members of the public in, you must take reasonable precautions to protect your guests from a foreseeable harm. You are not required to insure the public’s safety from all possible or existing hazards, but you must exercise a certain degree of due diligence, i.e. inspecting your property regularly to see if any dangerous conditions exist.

Duff v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

The key to any premises liability claim is establishing the existence of a hazardous condition. This generally requires a careful examination of the facts in a given case. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to assessing the existence of a hazardous condition.

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In any kind of personal injury case, it is important to be as precise as possible in your recollection of events. Obviously, nobody has a perfect memory, and you may be called to testify about an accident months or years later. But the words you use are taken seriously and literally by the court. You cannot expect a judge or jury to “know what you meant,” especially when your testimony undercuts a key argument in your case.

Hartman v. Clark

Consider a recent slip-and-fall case from here in Georgia. The plaintiff was patronizing a restaurant owned by the defendant. In a deposition, the plaintiff said she entered the restaurant’s bathroom, and after about 5 or 10 minutes she exited one of the stalls and “fell backwards,” causing injuries to her back and ankle.

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Personal injury litigation is often a lengthy process, involving months or even years of pretrial discovery, followed by a trial and possibly several rounds of appeals. What happens when the defendant simply fails to respond to the plaintiff’s lawsuit? Does the plaintiff automatically win?

Anderson v. Family Dollar Stores of Georgia, LLC

In legal terms, a defendant who fails to answer a properly served complaint “defaults.” This does not necessarily mean that the plaintiff is entitled to damages. The default only means the judge must take the factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint as true. The judge must then determine if those allegations are properly pled–i.e., that they actually state a legal basis for granting relief.

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Negligent security cases are often the most difficult types of personal injury cases for victims to prove. Negligent security falls under the broader category of “premises liability,” i.e. a property owner’s legal duty to keep that property in reasonably safe condition for customers and other invitees. While premises liability does not ordinarily extend to criminal acts committed by third parties, a property owner may be responsible for failing to provide adequate security, including proper lighting, locks, or guards.

Fair v. CV Underground, LLC

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed a negligent security claim against a well-known Atlanta shopping center. The plaintiffs were the parents of a man shot and killed on the defendant’s premises. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed the parents failed to present a case that could survive summary judgment.