In a premises liability case, Georgia law holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she had “equal or greater” knowledge of a hazard relative to the defendant. In other words, if you know there is a dangerous condition on someone else’s property and, in spite of that knowledge, you are injured, a judge may reject your personal injury lawsuit against the property owner.
Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation
A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how the question of a plaintiff’s “superior or equal” knowledge is dealt with in practice. The plaintiff was a tanker driver who delivered gasoline to a gas station owned and managed by the defendants. On the day in question, the plaintiff was making a delivery. The defendants required the plaintiff to manually measure the underground tank levels before and after each delivery. As the plaintiff later testified, he knew other drivers who had been “fired on the spot” for failing to follow this policy.
The problem was that the area used to check the tanks levels was located “in the parking spaces immediately in front of” the gas station. This routinely exposed drivers to the threat of incoming traffic, according to the plaintiff. He testified that he and other drivers had previously informed the defendants about “close calls” they experienced while checking tank levels. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleged it was unnecessary to manually check the tanks, as the defendants already had a computer monitoring system in place.
Nevertheless, the plaintiff proceeded to manually check the tanks and was struck by a vehicle. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendants for damages. (The plaintiff separately sued and settled with the driver of the vehicle.) The defendants argued they were not liable for the dangerous condition created by the location of their tank checking area because the plaintiff had equal or superior knowledge of the hazard.
The trial judge agreed with the defendants and awarded them summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, however, holding there was a triable question of fact for the jury. Even though the plaintiff had “equal” knowledge of the dangerous condition, he did not “voluntarily” assume the risk because he risked losing his job if he failed to comply with the defendants’ policies, which created the hazard in the first place.
Additionally, while Georgia law exempts property owners from liability for injuries suffered by workers hired to perform inherently “dangerous” tasks, the Court of Appeals said that did not apply here since the specific condition that led to the plaintiff’s injury–the defendants’ manual check policy–is not “inherent in the work of delivering gas.”
The Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, only that it was inappropriate as a matter of law to grant summary judgment to the defendants. A jury will ultimately decide whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to damages from the defendants.