One of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits in Georgia is the “slip-and-fall” case. We know how these cases start. A customer is shopping in a local store and suddenly slips on a puddle of water or some other liquid. The customer sustains serious injuries in the fall that require medical attention. Later, the customer sues the store owner to recover damages arising from the accident.
Under Georgia premises liability law, it is not enough for the customer to prove that the hazard–i.e., the puddle of water–existed and was the cause of the fall. The customer must also demonstrate that the store owner had superior knowledge of the hazard. By “superior knowledge,” we mean that the property owner knew about (or should have known about) the hazard in time to warn the customer about the potential danger. In contrast, if the customer had equal or superior knowledge of the hazard, then the store owner can defeat any personal injury claim. Put another way, if the customer was warned about the hazard in some way, yet chose to risk walking in the area regardless, the customer cannot then turn around and demand compensation from the property owner for any injuries suffered.
Allen v. AB Aviation, Inc.
A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Allen v. ABM Aviation, Inc., helps to illustrate what we are talking about. The plaintiff in this case slipped and fell at the Atlanta airport. The plaintiff worked in one of the airport’s concessions. On the evening in question, she finished her shift and traveled down an escalator on her way to the concessions office.
Shortly after the plaintiff stepped off the escalator, however, she slipped and fell. She lost consciousness but later awoke to find her clothes were wet. The plaintiff ultimately required extensive medical treatment, including surgery, and continues to suffer from blurred vision.
The plaintiff subsequently learned she had slipped on a wet floor that had just been cleaned by an employee of the defendant, the contractor hired to clean the airport’s atrium. She sued the defendant, alleging its negligence caused her accident and injuries. The defendant moved to dismiss the case at the summary judgment stage, arguing the plaintiff “had equal knowledge of the hazard” due to the fact there were “wet floor” signs posted in the area.
The trial judge, and later the Court of Appeals, agreed with the defendant on this issue and granted summary judgment. As the Court of Appeals noted, the plaintiff admitted seeing a “wet floor” sign as she got off the escalator. She also saw the defendant’s employee cleaning the floor. As there were no other obstructions in the area, such as poor lighting, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the plain and undisputed evidence shows that [the plaintiff] had equal knowledge of the risk.”