Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

There are two significant hurdles a plaintiff must clear when bringing a premises liability claim: First, there must be proof that a “hazard” existed on the defendant’s property that caused the plaintiff’s injury; and second, the plaintiff must show the defendant had “actual or constructive knowledge” of this hazard.

Green v. Big Lots Stores, Inc.

Here is a recent example in which a plaintiff managed to clear the first hurdle but not the second. This case, Green v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., involves a slip-and-all accident that occurred in August 2015. The plaintiff and his wife went to the defendant’s store to do their grocery shopping. They entered the store just as it was opening for the day. According to the plaintiff, he noticed a store manager “pushing a push broom in the aisles.”

There are a number of situations in which an individual or business may be held liable for a personal injury caused by someone else. Two of the more common ones involve the legal concepts of respondeat superior and premises liability. The first, respondeat superior, refers to cases in which an employee commits a tort in the course of carrying out the employer’s business. The second, premises liability, means a property owner had superior knowledge of a safety hazard that caused an injury to a person lawfully on the premises.

Manners v. 5 Star Lodge and Stables, LLC

Neither of these rules means a business is automatically liable for an accident just because it involves one of its employees or occurs on its land. Here is an example taken from a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision. In this case, a woman was accidentally shot while on the premises of a lodge. The Court of Appeals, upholding an earlier ruling by a trial judge, held that the lodge was not legally responsible for the plaintiff’s shooting or injuries.

Under Georgia law, a property owner who invites members of the public onto their premises can be held liable for “damages to such persons” caused by the owner’s “failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.” Normally, this duty cannot be delegated to third parties. If the owner leases the property to another–that is to say, a landlord gives “full possession and complete control” to a tenant–then the tenant assumes the responsibility for keeping the premises safe for invited guests.

Sherwood v. Williams

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed a case involving the relative liability of landlord and tenant for an injury caused to a third-party invited guest. The landlord here owned an auto body shop. He leased part of the shop to a tenant. More precisely, the lease covered the “front repair and maintenance area” of the shop, which included three repair bays, together with associated office space and parking. The lease also included an indemnification clause, holding the landlord “harmless for any liability or damages” caused by the tenant’s operations “or otherwise” to any third party.