Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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It is well understood that in Georgia, a store owner is liable for injuries caused by hazardous conditions on store premises. But what exactly do we mean by “premises”? For instance, if you are walking down the aisle of a supermarket and slip on a puddle of water, there is no question that you are on the store owner’s premises. But suppose your slip-and-fall occurred in the parking lot adjacent to the store? Is the store owner still legally responsible?

Boyd v. Big Lots Stores, Inc.

A July 31 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals helps explain how the law works in this area. This case involved a personal injury claim brought against a well-known national retailer. The plaintiff was shopping at one of the defendant’s stores, which is located in a larger retail shopping center. As the plaintiff exited the store and headed for her car, she slipped and fell in the parking lot. She suffered injuries as a result of the fall and sued the store owner for damages.

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A key question in most premises liability cases is, “What constitutes a hazard?” After all, not every object that may obstruct a customer’s path is is necessarily dangerous. It is important to establish why a particular object constitutes a hazard–which leads the follow-up question of whether or not the management of the premises took reasonable steps to identify and correct that hazard.

Powell v. Variety Wholesalers, Inc.

Consider this ongoing federal lawsuit in Statesboro that centers on a clear plastic clothes hanger. One day in 2015, the plaintiff and her granddaughter went shopping at a department store owned by the defendant. The two women used one of the store’s changing rooms to try on clothes. As they exited the changing area, the plaintiff “slipped and fell” on the clear hanger, which according to her was “lying in the middle of the aisle.”

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Even in Georgia, the winters are still prone to icy conditions. When walking through public parking lots and shopping centers in such conditions, you need to be aware of your surroundings, especially if you get into a slip and fall accident. If you subsequently attempt to hold the owner of the property liable for your injuries, the question of your “equal” or “superior” knowledge of any hazards may prove critical at trial.

Naval Store Suppliers, Inc. v. Croft

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the defendants in a slip and fall case arising from an accident in the winter of 2014. On the day in question, it was approximately 25 degrees outside, and there was a noticeable water spigot located near the entrance of the defendant’s store. The spigot was open and the gushing water had formed a mixture of ice and water that clearly posed a hazard to anyone using the entrance.

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Just as auto insurance provides liability coverage in the event a driver is sued for causing an accident, most Georgia homeowners’ insurance policies protect the homeowner in the event that someone is injured on their property. For example, if the homeowner was negligent in maintaining their driveway and someone has a trip-and-fall accident, the homeowners’ insurance carrier could be on the hook for the victim’s medical bills and other damages. As with any kind of insurance claim, it is important for the owner to promptly notify the homeowners’ insurance carrier anytime there is an accident that may lead to litigation.

Travelers Indemnity Company of America v. Jones

If there is any way for an insurance company to avoid paying a personal injury claim, it will take it. Consider this recent decision by a federal judge in Athens. This case arises from particularly tragic circumstances. A 23-year-old woman was going to a party at a house in Athens. But as she was still seated in her car, she was struck and killed by a stray bullet, the byproduct of a gun fight between two groups on the property.

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When bringing a premises liability claim in Georgia, a plaintiff does not have to establish that the defendant had actual knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injury. Instead, the plaintiff can show the defendant had “constructive” knowledge. Basically, this means the defendant should have known about the hazard, either because there was a prior history of similar accidents, or the defendant failed to maintain a reasonable inspection program for their property.

Knoeferl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.

Here is an illustration of what this means in practice. This is taken from a recent decision by a federal judge in Augusta in an ongoing personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff had gone to the defendant’s restaurant for lunch. While walking back to her car following her meal, the plaintiff fell over an “indentation in the pavement,” causing her to break her femur. She subsequently sued the defendant for its alleged negligence in failing to properly maintain its parking lot.

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Premises liability laws ensure that property owners are held responsible for hazardous conditions that injure their invited guests or other members of the public who are lawfully on the premises. With respect to invitees, the property owner must exercise “ordinary care in the keeping the premises and approaches safe.” If the injured party is a “licensee” – someone who is permitted on the property but is not considered a customer or “servant” of the owner – then the owner is only liable for causing “willful or wanton injury.”

Harrison v. Legacy Housing, LP

Many premises liability cases turn on the status of the injured plaintiff, i.e. whether they an invitee or licensee. A recent decision by a federal judge in Macon offers a helpful illustration of this distinction. The plaintiff in this case was helping a friend perform work in an empty warehouse. After the plaintiff sustained a serious injury, he attempted to sue the warehouse’s owner under the theory he was an “invitee.”

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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.