Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In November 2015, two men stopped at an Atlanta gas station and convenience store. One man stepped out to get gas while the other was taking a nap in the front seat of the act. Shortly thereafter, a third man wearing a white hat confronted the man pumping the gas. This led to an exchange of gunfire. One of the bullets hit the second man in the car.

Khalia, Inc. v. Rosebud

The gunshot victim subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company that owned the convenience store. Evidence presented at trial indicated the store was a “well-known scene of illegal drug transactions” and, notably, at least “two incidents of prior gunplay.” Indeed, there had been another shooting at the same convenience store just three days before the incident that injured the plaintiff.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued a decision, Handberry v. Manning Forestry Services, LLC, addressing an unusual personal injury claim. This case involved a man who died after falling into an abandoned well. The plaintiff, the victim’s widow, subsequently sued a number of defendants that she alleged were negligent in failing to address the hazard posed by the well prior to her husband’s death.

According to court records, the victim was driving a four-wheeler on private property with the permission of the owner. At some point, one of the four-wheeler’s tires “entered a well that was hidden by vegetation.” The vehicle overturned, throwing the victim into the well, where he sustained fatal injuries.

The defendants in this case included several companies that previously performed work on the property in question. The plaintiff based her claims on a specific Georgia statute, OCGA § 44-1-14, which deals with the “abatement of hazard” from an “abandoned well or hole.” In this context, an abandoned well is “any man-made opening on the surface of the earth which is 10 feet or more in depth and which has not been used for a period of 60 days.”

Last year we discussed a case where the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a residential lease between a landlord and tenant could be used to shorten the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim from two years to just one year. The plaintiff tenant subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Georgia to review that decision. The Supreme Court agreed to do so, and on October 21, it issued a decision reversing the Court of Appeals.

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC

To briefly review the facts of this case, the plaintiff rented an apartment from the defendant. One day, the plaintiff fell in a common area of the apartment complex. She maintains her fall was the result of improper maintenance, specifically with respect to a portion of the curb where her food got caught. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

All Georgia business owners need to take reasonable steps in keeping their premises safe for customers. The key word here is “reasonable.” The law does not require businesses to guarantee safety against all possible or conceivable threats to a customer’s well-being.

Hill v. MM Gas & Food Mart, Inc.

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Hill v. MM Gas & Food Mart, Inc., helps to illustrate this principle. This case involves an October 2013 incident at a Macon convenience store owned by the defendant. The plaintiff and a friend entered the store to purchase lottery tickets. While waiting at the counter, the plaintiff “heard gunshots and the sound of breaking glass.” He then “felt a burning sensation on his head” and fell to the floor.

Personal injury lawsuits against the State of Georgia or any state agency must strictly comply with the terms of the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA). The GTCA is a state law that waives Georgia’s normal “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits. Before anyone can file a claim under the GTCA, for instance, the claimant must provide advance notice to the state. This notice must be delivered within one year of the claimant’s injury and needs to include a number of specific items, such as the place where the injury occurred, the “nature of the loss suffered,” and the amount claimed for said injury or loss.

The reasoning behind the notice requirement is to give the state an opportunity to conduct its own investigation into the claimant’s allegations and, where possible, the ability to settle the claim without the need for litigation. This is why it is critical for claimants to provide as much information as required by law.

Bailey v. Georgia World Congress Center

Georgia property owners are required to exercise “ordinary care” in keeping their invited guests and members of the public safe. This does not mean the owner must absolutely guarantee a person’s safety. For example, under most circumstances the owner is not liable for a criminal act committed by a third party on its property. This is considered an “intervening” act that absolves the owner of any liability. However, there is an exception to this general rule when there is evidence that the criminal act itself was “reasonably foreseeable” by the owner.

Rautenberg v. Pope

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Rautenberg v. Pope, offers a useful explanation of when a crime may be considered “foreseeable.” The plaintiff in this case is a semi-truck driver. He rented a parking space for his truck from the defendant. One day, the plaintiff parked his truck in his space and retired to his sleeping cab. Sometime later, the plaintiff awoke to find “an individual at the window with a tool–a long pry bar or screwdriver.” The man quickly left. The plaintiff then exited his cab and found himself on the step of another truck that was parked beside his vehicle. The other man was driving this truck. He started to drive away–with the plaintiff “hanging on the side mirror.” Eventually, the plaintiff fell off the other truck, which proceeded to run him over twice.

In some personal injury cases, expert testimony is necessary to help establish causation. For example, if you sue your doctor for medical malpractice, you will need to present testimony from another qualified physician who can explain exactly what your doctor did wrong and how that “caused” your alleged injury. Other cases do not typically require such testimony. If you slip and fall on a puddle of water in the middle of a grocery store, you do not need an expert to explain what caused you to fall.

Wilson v. Kroger Co.

What if the defendant alleges another potential cause of a plaintiff’s injuries? Does the plaintiff need to call on an expert witness to rebut this alternate explanation? A federal judge in Atlanta recently addressed such a situation.

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make following a serious accident is to not contact a lawyer. In some cases, the negligent party who caused the accident will try and convince the victim that it is unnecessary to speak with an attorney. The negligent party may even make promises to “take care of” the victim’s damages without the need for them to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Golden Isles Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Lowie

Unfortunately, such promises may be nothing more than a delaying tactic. The negligent party may simply be trying to keep the victim from filing a claim until it is too late–i.e., after the statute of limitations has expired.

A common point of contention in slip-and-fall cases is whether or not the business owner had “constructive knowledge” of the hazard that injured the customer. Constructive knowledge is not the same thing as actual knowledge. In other words, let us say a customer slips on a puddle of water in the aisle of a supermarket. It is likely that the store’s management did not actually know there was a spill beforehand. But the store owner may still be legally liable if the customer can prove that management “should have known” there was a spill through the exercise of due diligence.

Put another way, if the store had no policy in place to regularly inspect the aisles for potential hazards–or the employees failed to follow such an inspection policy–that can be sufficient to prove “constructive knowledge” on the part of the owner.

Orr v. Macy’s Retail Holdings, Inc.

Workers’ compensation is a state-run insurance system designed to provide “no-fault” benefits to employees injured on the job. No-fault means that a worker may receive medical and income replacement benefits without having to establish the employer was negligent or somehow responsible for the injury. However, the injury must occur in the course of employment and not some “individual pursuit.”

Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation

Georgia courts have long held that an employee who is on a scheduled lunch or rest break during the workday is engaged in an “individual pursuit,” and therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured during that time. Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals reaffirmed that principle in a case addressing an employee was injured while preparing to leave work for lunch.