Articles Posted in Premises Liability

While many premises liability claims are based on the existence of a physical hazard—i.e., a customer slips and falls on a puddle of water—there are also cases in which a property owner may be liable for the criminal acts of third parties that cause personal injury to a patron. Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed the issue of how long a crime victim has to file such a claim.

Harrison v. McAfee

In June 2011, a group of masked men robbed a restaurant in Macon, Georgia. During the robbery, one of the assailants shot a restaurant patron. To date, none of the alleged criminals have been identified or arrested.

One of the most common types of personal injury claims against the owner of a business or other premises is the “slip and fall.” Essentially, there is a hazardous condition on a given property that causes a visitor to slip, fall, and suffer some form of serious injury. Under Georgia law, the premises owner may be liable if he or she knew—or should have known—about such an “unreasonably dangerous” condition and failed to take appropriate steps to remedy it.

Alsip v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

Proving whether an “unreasonably dangerous” condition exists often requires a careful examination of the facts surrounding a particular accident. A Georgia judge will not simply take a plaintiff at his or her word that there was a hazardous condition. To the contrary, it is often necessary for a plaintiff to employ one or more technical experts who can explain to the court why the premises owner failed to act in an appropriate manner.

A homeowner’s insurance policy typically covers the policyholder’s liability for personal injury claims that occur on the property. For example, if someone slips and falls in your home and subsequently sues you, your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay for any damages. But not every injury that occurs on a property is necessarily covered by a homeowner’s policy, which can leave a defendant on the hook for potentially millions in damages while making it more difficult for the injury victim to receive prompt compensation.

Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Herndon

One common homeowner’s insurance policy exclusion is for criminal acts. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of such an exclusion. This case has its roots in an extramarital affair. The defendant was a married man in an “intimate relationship” with another woman, who also assisted him with maintaining his rental properties.

If you are injured on someone else’s property, the owner may be liable for negligence. This is known in Georgia as “premises liability.” A common type of premises liability occurs when a customer slips and falls in a store due to a hazardous condition. If the store had “superior knowledge” of the hazard and the customer exercised “ordinary care” for his or her own safety, then a jury may find the store liable under premises liability.

Stephens v. Kmart Corporation

Premises liability cases tend to be highly fact-specific. Here is a recent example from here in Georgia. In this case, the plaintiff was shopping with her husband at a store in Tifton, Georgia. She was browsing through a series of clothing racks set up on the sidewalk in front of the store’s entrance. While attempting to move between the racks, the plaintiff’s “foot stepped off the curb, causing her to fall on the asphalt.” She sustained a serious injury to her back as a result.

Georgia law prohibits individuals from carrying “weapons” in any public school. There are exceptions for law enforcement who need to carry firearms in carrying out their official duties. But the Georgia legislature has made it clear that schools are supposed to be “gun free zones.”

Boatright v. Copeland

There was an interesting personal injury lawsuit recently before the Georgia Court of Appeals. The plaintiff was “assisting in loading and firing a cannon owned by the Appling County School District.” The cannon was used outdoors during Appling County High School’s football games. The plaintiff was compressing gunpowder in the cannon with a rod when the cannon suddenly discharged, causing permanent injury to the plaintiff’s right hand. The plaintiff subsequently sued the school district, as well as the superintendent of schools and individual school board members.

In a premises liability case—that is, a personal injury lawsuit arising when someone is injured on another person’s property—the plaintiff must generally prove that the property owner possessed “superior knowledge” of the defective condition that caused the alleged injury. In other words, the danger must be known to the owner but not to the plaintiff. This does not mean a property owner in every case can simply plead ignorance to a hazardous condition. Nor does it mean that he or she can try to shift the blame to a third party, such as a contractor who worked on the property.

Hill v. Cole CC Kenesaw GA, LLC

An ongoing Georgia case illustrates how the law may protect injury victims in certain situations. The plaintiff in this case worked in an office building. On the evening in question, the plaintiff and a co-worker entered an elevator to leave the building. The elevator stopped at a point such that it was not level with the floor. The plaintiff subsequently tripped, hit her on head on a railing inside the elevator, and had to be taken to the hospital.

Can a property owner be held liable for persons injured due to gang-related activity on or near their premises? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question. The appeals court was asked to review a $35 million verdict issued against a popular Cobb County theme park after a man was savagely beaten following an incident in the facility’s parking lot.

Six Flags Over Georgia II LP v. Martin

As the Court of Appeals explained in its opinion, the theme park is “located in a well-known, high-crime area, which has been the site of numerous instances of criminal gang activity.” There had also been a number of reported incidents where violence inside the park “spilled over” to outside locations.

If you are injured on someone else’s property, you can normally bring a premises liability claim if there is evidence the owner was somehow negligent. Unfortunately, the rules are much different for injury victims if they are injured on government property. Both the federal and Georgia governments are normally immune from lawsuits unless they consent to be sued. With respect to the federal government, Congress adopted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which authorizes individuals to bring personal injury lawsuits against the government under state law in certain circumstances.

What do we mean by “certain circumstances”? The FTCA does contain a number of exceptions, which courts are required to strictly construe in favor of the federal government, as it is presumed to have immunity unless expressly waived. One of the most common exceptions applies to “discretionary” actions by government employees. This exception holds that a person may not file a personal injury claim against the government based on an employee’s “failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function.” In other words, if an employee fails to carry out a duty mandated by law, a person can file a claim under the FTCA. But if the employee has any discretion to act (or not act), the government cannot be held liable.

Fagg v. United States

What is the liability of a store owner for a potential tort committed by members of the public? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question. The case involved a woman who claimed she was injured as the result of a collision with an unsupervised child.

Ingles Markets, Inc. v. Carroll

According to the plaintiff, she visited a grocery store in Villa Roca, Georgia, one afternoon in February 2012. As she walked down a store aisle, the plaintiff said a boy—about 11- or 12-years old—ran down the aisle, knocked into her, and caused her to fall. The plaintiff then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the child’s parents and the store.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently dismissed a personal injury lawsuit brought by a woman who fell into a pothole in a parking lot. The woman sued the property owner for maintaining unsafe conditions in the parking lot. In this case, the property owner was Dalton State College, part of the University System of Georgia. As the named defendant, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is immune from civil lawsuits unless certain conditions specified by Georgia law are met. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court found the plaintiff failed to meet one of those technical conditions.

Board of Regents v. Myers

There was no question the woman suffered serious injuries. After falling in the pothole at Dalton State’s parking lot, she required emergency treatment, extended orthopedic care, and several months of physical therapy. While still receiving treatment, the woman notified the Board of Regents of her intention to sue. Georgia law requires such notice be given in order to effect a waiver of the Board’s sovereign immunity.