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.
Here is what happened. The plaintiff and her boyfriend were friends with the lodge manager. The manager lived in an apartment on the lodge property with her own boyfriend. One Friday evening, the plaintiff and her boyfriend went to visit the manager and her boyfriend at the lodge.
The manager’s boyfriend was showing the plaintiff’s boyfriend some modifications he had recently made to a pistol he owned. At some point, the gun accidentally went off, striking and injuring the plaintiff. She subsequently sued the manager’s boyfriend for negligence, and also named the lodge owner as a co-defendant, alleging liability under respondeat superior and premises liability.
As the Court of Appeals explained, there was no grounds for holding the lodge owner responsible for the accidental shooting. As discussed above, respondeat superior means an employer is liable for the negligent acts of its employees. But even assuming the manager’s boyfriend worked for the lodge, the Court said there was no evidence he was engaged in any employment-related activities when the gun went off. The plaintiff and her boyfriend were at the lodge on a “social visit,” not to discuss anything related to the employer’s business.
The plaintiff maintained that their visit was in fact work-related because she and her boyfriend were there to discuss helping parking cars for the lodge, which was scheduled to host multiple weddings that weekend. But the Court of Appeals noted they were not engaged in such work when the shooting occurred on Friday night.
For similar reasons, the appeals court rejected the plaintiff’s premises liability claim. There is a critical distinction in Georgia law between someone who is on a property as an “invitee” as opposed to a “licensee.” The property owner owes an invitee a “duty of ordinary care” to protect them from certain hazards. But with respect to a “licensee,” the owner only has a duty to “avoid causing willful or wanton injury.”
Here, the plaintiff qualified as a licensee. Had the plaintiff been working on the property as she alleged, that would have made her an invitee. But once again, the fact she might have planned to work later in the weekend was irrelevant to her status at the moment she was shot. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff had no claim against the lodge owner.