Is a Georgia Store Owner Liable for Customers Injured in the Parking Lot?

It is well understood that in Georgia, a store owner is liable for injuries caused by hazardous conditions on store premises. But what exactly do we mean by “premises”? For instance, if you are walking down the aisle of a supermarket and slip on a puddle of water, there is no question that you are on the store owner’s premises. But suppose your slip-and-fall occurred in the parking lot adjacent to the store? Is the store owner still legally responsible?

Boyd v. Big Lots Stores, Inc.

A July 31 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals helps explain how the law works in this area. This case involved a personal injury claim brought against a well-known national retailer. The plaintiff was shopping at one of the defendant’s stores, which is located in a larger retail shopping center. As the plaintiff exited the store and headed for her car, she slipped and fell in the parking lot. She suffered injuries as a result of the fall and sued the store owner for damages.

The defendant said it was not liable for injuries sustained in the store’s parking lot. The defendant noted it did not lease the parking lot, which was a common area owned by the shopping center. Indeed, the plaintiff herself did not dispute this.

But the plaintiff pointed to Georgia statutory law and a 1993 decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia, Motel Properties v. Miller, which holds that a store owner is responsible for injuries sustained on an “approach to the premises.” The Motel Properties court said this meant any property “directly contiguous, adjacent to, and touching those entryways to premises under the control of an owner or occupier” that induced someone to “come upon his premises for any lawful purpose.”

In the present case, however, the Georgia Court of Appeals noted the plaintiff “departed on foot from the store premises, walked across a sidewalk in front of the store, and continued walking away from the store into the common area parking lot”–at least 45 feet from the store’s entrance–before she slipped and fell. Under these circumstances, she was no longer “on a continuous approach to the store premises.”

The Court of Appeals also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant voluntarily “undertook a duty” to maintain the parking lot. In support of this point, the plaintiff cited the testimony of a store manager, who said that his “personal belief or practice” was to “temporarily” address a parking lot hazard until someone from the shopping center “could get there.” For example, the manager did clean up the spot where the plaintiff fell in the parking lot. But this did not mean the defendant had “extended an approach to the premises” to cover the parking lot, according to the Court of Appeals. Indeed, there was no evidence the defendant itself had any formal policies in place regarding the parking lot.

For these reasons, among others, the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s previous decision to grant summary judgment to the defendant, thereby dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

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