Your parents probably told you, “Watch where you’re going!” more than a few times when you were kid. This is not just good advice. It is also an important reminder that you are expected to be aware of your surroundings at all times. From a legal standpoint, your awareness or lack thereof may be a critical issue in a personal injury case, particularly when you have alleged negligence on the part of a property owner.
Cherokee Main Street, LLC v. Ragan
Consider this recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. This is a car accident case that originated in Cherokee County a little over four years ago. On the day in question, the plaintiff was shopping at a department store in a local shopping center. After leaving the store, she walked down a sidewalk past another store–one of the defendants in this case. The sidewalk had a ramp leading into the parking lot. But there was no formal crosswalk markings.
The plaintiff started to cross at the ramp exit. She saw a car coming towards her position. Despite this, she continued to cross into the parking lot, at which time she was struck and seriously injured by the car.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the store and the owner of the shopping center under a theory of premises liability. In essence, she argued the property owners should have installed a proper crosswalk and traffic signs near the ramp. Had the defendants done so, the plaintiff maintained, she would not have been hit by the car.
A trial court in Cherokee County ruled that the plaintiff could proceed with her case, denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. But the Court of Appeals reversed, holding there was no way that a reasonable jury could rule in the plaintiff’s favor. Ultimately, the appeals court said, the plaintiff could not prove that the defendants had “superior knowledge” of the danger that caused her accident.
Establishing a defendant’s superior knowledge of a hazard is critical in any premises liability case. If the plaintiff has equal or superior knowledge of the hazard, then she cannot recover any damages. In this case, the Court of Appeals said, the plaintiff had an unimpeded view of the parking lot where she made her crossing. Not only was the plaintiff undistracted at the time of the accident, she was familiar with the shopping center and the layout of the parking lot.
So, even assuming that the defendants created a dangerous condition by failing to install a proper crosswalk or signage, the plaintiff certainly had “equal knowledge” of this hazard. More importantly, the appeals court noted that the plaintiff saw the car that ultimately hit her before she started to cross the parking lot. This gave her “superior knowledge of the immediate risk posed by that car.” She made the decision to enter the parking lot knowing there was a car heading towards her position. Accordingly, the court said that the plaintiff could not hold the store or the shopping center liable for the consequences of her own decision.