Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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Your parents probably told you, “Watch where you’re going!” more than a few times when you were kid. This is not just good advice. It is also an important reminder that you are expected to be aware of your surroundings at all times. From a legal standpoint, your awareness or lack thereof may be a critical issue in a personal injury case, particularly when you have alleged negligence on the part of a property owner.

Cherokee Main Street, LLC v. Ragan

Consider this recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. This is a car accident case that originated in Cherokee County a little over four years ago. On the day in question, the plaintiff was shopping at a department store in a local shopping center. After leaving the store, she walked down a sidewalk past another store–one of the defendants in this case. The sidewalk had a ramp leading into the parking lot. But there was no formal crosswalk markings.

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Many parents would be happy to see a public park or attraction that admits their children for free. But thanks to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia, those parents may want to think twice about the legal cost of “free” admission. According to the Court, if you do not pay for your child to get in, you might be surrendering any right to sue for damages if he or she is injured on the property.

Mayor and Alderman of Garden City v. Harris

This case involves a child who was 6 years old at the time of her injury. Her parents took her to attend a youth football game in a public facility owned by Garden City in Chatham County. The facility normally charges a $2 admission fee, but children ages 6 and under do not have to pay. So, while the parents paid for their own admission, they did not have to pay for their child.

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Everyone understands that you need to be careful when walking in the rain. But just because it is raining outside, that does not automatically absolve store owners of their legal duty to keep their premises in reasonably safe condition for patrons and other invited guests. Put another way, while a store is not necessarily liable for injuries sustained by a customer who slips in a puddle of rainwater near the entrance, if there is evidence the entrance’s design is defective or hazardous, then the customer may have a claim for damages.

Hart v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

Here is an illustration of this principle from an ongoing personal injury lawsuit from Columbus, Georgia. The plaintiff went to the local superstore to shop in its garden center. it was raining at the time. When the plaintiff stepped inside the store, he slipped and fell and sustained serious injuries.

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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.