Articles Posted in Premises Liability

The basics of premises liability in Georgia  – the laws that apply when you are injured on someone else’s property – are largely the same as in most jurisdictions across the United States. However, Georgia premises liability law has some interesting differences that make it possible you might not be able to recover for an injury caused by a hazard on another’s property. Even with those differences, though, in general a Georgia property owner owes a duty of care to people on the owner’s property with permission, opening the door for potential recovery for injuries suffered there.

What is Premises Liability?

Georgia law on premises liability applies where the owner or occupier of a property owes a duty of care to someone who comes on the property, breaches that duty of care, resulting in injuries, and that the injured visitor experiences damages. The owner’s invitation to enter the property can be expressed – such as where a homeowner invites friends or neighbors to come onto the property – or implied, such as where the owner operates a business that is open to the public. Any property owner or legal occupier can be liable for injuries occurring on the property because of their negligence. That includes homeowners, business property owners, business operators who are leasing their business premises, landlords, property managers, homeowners’ associations – for community-owned common spaces – or even government agencies. The common thread is they are responsible for the safe upkeep of the property and failed to keep the property safe due to their own negligence.

The typical premises liability claim involves a customer who is injured slipping and falling in the aisle of a store. In such cases, the legal question is whether or not the store owner breached its legal duty to keep its premises “in a reasonably safe condition” for invited members of the public. The owner is not, however, required to absolutely guarantee a patron’s safety.

ABH Corporation v. Montgomery

In some cases, a store owner’s duty may extend possible criminal acts that occur on its premises. But this can be much trickier to prove than a simple slip and fall. This is because the victim must prove that the store owner had “reason to anticipate” the criminal act and failed to exercise “ordinary care” to protect the public. The mere fact that a crime occurred, or even that the neighborhood may be considered more prone to criminal activity, is not enough to establish the store owner’s legal liability.

If you are involved in a car accident, you should always promptly notify your auto insurance carrier. Failure to do so may lead the insurer to deny coverage. This is a basic rule of Georgia insurance law that applies equally to large companies. At the end of the day, an insurance policy is a contract, and you are expected to strictly adhere to its terms, including any notice requirements.

Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Company v. Renaissance Bliss, LLC

Indeed, a failure to notify can affect the rights of third-party victims who may end up suing an insured entity. A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Company v. Renaissance Bliss, LLC, provides an illustration of this principle. This particular case began with the rape of a property manager at a Georgia condominium complex. The sexual assault occurred in the property’s parking lot. When police later arrived at the scene, they learned that the parking lot’s security cameras, which might have captured footage of the assault, were not operational.

You probably know that if you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, you can sue that person to recover your medical expenses. But defining the precise scope of medical expenses can get complicated, particularly in the U.S. healthcare system. For instance, are you entitled to recover the full amount you were billed by your doctor or hospital, or just what your insurance company agreed to pay?

Higgs v. Costa Crociere Spa Company

A federal appeals court recently confronted this question in the context of a maritime law dispute. While personal injury cases that arise on land normally fall under state law, if are you injured on a cruise ship or elsewhere on the “high seas,” you typically need to sue the negligent party under federal maritime law.

One of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits in Georgia is the “slip-and-fall” case. We know how these cases start. A customer is shopping in a local store and suddenly slips on a puddle of water or some other liquid. The customer sustains serious injuries in the fall that require medical attention. Later, the customer sues the store owner to recover damages arising from the accident.

Under Georgia premises liability law, it is not enough for the customer to prove that the hazard–i.e., the puddle of water–existed and was the cause of the fall. The customer must also demonstrate that the store owner had superior knowledge of the hazard. By “superior knowledge,” we mean that the property owner knew about (or should have known about) the hazard in time to warn the customer about the potential danger. In contrast, if the customer had equal or superior knowledge of the hazard, then the store owner can defeat any personal injury claim. Put another way, if the customer was warned about the hazard in some way, yet chose to risk walking in the area regardless, the customer cannot then turn around and demand compensation from the property owner for any injuries suffered.

Allen v. AB Aviation, Inc.

As a general principle of law, the owner of a property is typically not liable for failing to warn invited guests of hazards that are considered “open and obvious” to any “reasonable person.” In other words, if you see a giant puddle of water in the middle of a store aisle, choose to walk over it, and slip and fall, you may have a difficult time suing the store’s owner for failing to inform you of the danger. All the owner needs to do is point out the hazard–the puddle of water–was open and obvious to any reasonable person who was paying attention to their surroundings.

Carroll v. Carnival Corporation

But, if you will pardon the pun, it is not always obvious when a hazard is “open and obvious.” Judges and juries need to carefully weigh the available evidence in a given case. Even where the danger is ultimately found to be open and obvious, that does not always completely absolve the property owner of liability.

In July 2019, a woman from Lawrenceville attended her son’s football practice at a local field. The woman walked by the field’s bleachers when she slipped and fell on an uncovered drain. She suffered injuries as a result of this fall and subsequently sued Gwinnett County, which operated the field, and a number of related parties, mostly unidentified county employees. The now-plaintiff alleged that the County’s failure to properly maintain or repair the drain caused her accident.

Gwinnett County, GA, v. Ashby

Gwinnett County promptly moved to dismiss the lawsuit. It cited the longstanding legal principle of “sovereign immunity,” which holds that a person cannot sue the state or any of its subdivisions–such as a county–unless their claims are expressly authorized by the Georgia General Assembly. The County insisted that no such legislative waiver of sovereign immunity applied to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In response, the plaintiff cited a state law known as the Recreational Property Act (RPA).

In the 1990s, the General Assembly adopted the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (GSGTPA). This law gives prosecutors and local governments powerful tools to address “criminal gang activity” in their jurisdictions. The Act also permits victims of gang violence to file personal injury lawsuits for triple damages. The law does not specify the particular types of lawsuits that can be filed, or even who the possible defendants must be, only that the “finder of fact”–i.e., a jury–must first decide if the plaintiff’s action is “consistent with the intent of the General Assembly” when it adopted the GSGTPA.

Star Residential, LLC v. Hernandez

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the application of the GSGTPA to a personal injury lawsuit, Star Residential, LLC v. Hernandez, brought by a man against the owner and operator of his apartment complex. Specifically, the plaintiff said he was “shot from behind in an unprovoked attack and robbery” committed by three unidentified men. The plaintiff was paralyzed as a result of his gunshot injuries.

If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident while shopping in a store in Georgia, there is typically no question that you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia. But what happens if you are injured in an accident while on a cruise ship at sea? Where is the proper “venue” to bring a personal injury claim?

Lebedinsky v. MSC Cruises, SA

The answer to this question may be found on your ticket or booking confirmation paperwork for the cruise itself. All cruise operators have some form of “terms and conditions” that address a number of legal issues in the fine print. This typically includes what is known as a “forum selection clause,” i.e., language that states which state or country’s courts will have jurisdiction to hear any legal disputes arising from the passenger’s participation in the cruise.

In a premises liability claim, an accident victim alleges that a property victim’s negligence caused his or her injury. Depending on the facts of the case, the property owner may raise one or more defenses, including what is known as “assumption of the risk.” Basically, this means that the evidence shows the plaintiff “had full knowledge” of the particular hazard that caused the injury, that the plaintiff “understood and appreciated” this risk, and that they “voluntarily chose to act” of their own free will knowing they might be injured.

Hoose v. United States

A recent decision from a federal judge in Macon, Hose v. United States, illustrates how assumption of the risk is applied by courts in practice. This case involved a personal injury lawsuit against the federal government. The plaintiff was making a delivery to Robins Air Force Base (RAFB). According to the plaintiff, he regularly made deliveries to the commissary at RAFB and was thus familiar with its layout.

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