Georgia Jury Awards $600,000 for Pain and Suffering in Restaurant Slip and Fall Case

In a premises liability case, a defendant may be held responsible for failing to post proper warning signs regarding a hazard on the property, such as a “wet floor” sign near a puddle of water. These types of slip and fall cases are highly fact-specific, however, and what constitutes an inadequate warning in one case may be deemed insufficient to prove the defendant’s liability in another case.

Vineyard Industries, Inc. v. Bailey

Here is an example in which the defendant was held liable. This is a recent Georgia slip and fall case involving a popular fast food restaurant. The victim is a minor who went to the defendant’s restaurant one morning for breakfast. After placing her order, she used the restroom. Upon exiting the restroom, she passed the restaurant’s drink machine, where she slipped and fell on the wet floor.

The victim’s mother sued the restaurant for negligence. At trial, the defense presented an expert witness who proposed to testify that even if the restaurant had posted a warning sign on the wet floor, it would not have prevented the victim’s fall. More specifically, the expert said “there was no evidence in the scientific literature to support that an additional warning sign would change someone’s behavior” around a hazardous condition.

The trial judge refused to allow the jury to hear the expert give this particular opinion. Following the two-day trial, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded approximately $74,000 in damages for the victim’s medical expenses and another $600,000 for her pain and suffering. The defendant appealed.

But on October 27 of this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict. With respect to the expert’s opinions regarding the effect of warning signs, the appeals court said the defendant failed to demonstrate their witness applied his “principles and methods reliably to the facts of this case.” In other words, “even assuming the literature shows that some people respond to warnings, while others do not,” the expert did not explain how this applied to the victim’s decision making on the day in question, i.e., would she have avoided the area near the drink machine had the defendant posted a “wet floor” sign.

As for damages, the Court of Appeals said the jury’s verdict was consistent with Georgia law. At trial, the defense argued the award should have been reduced to account for the victim’s comparative fault in not avoiding the accident. The jury determined that the victim bore no fault, and the Court of Appeals said that was consistent with the evidence presented.

Furthermore, awarding $600,000 for pain and suffering was justified because the victim “suffered severe pain for at least two years after her fall, still experiences pain, and will likely experience some pain” following a third required knee surgery. Ultimately, a jury has a discretion to award damages for pain and suffering as it sees fit, provided the final amount is not “so excessive as to shock the conscience.” The appeals court said that was not the case here.

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