Articles Tagged with Georgia premises liability attorney

As a general principle of law, the owner of a property is typically not liable for failing to warn invited guests of hazards that are considered “open and obvious” to any “reasonable person.” In other words, if you see a giant puddle of water in the middle of a store aisle, choose to walk over it, and slip and fall, you may have a difficult time suing the store’s owner for failing to inform you of the danger. All the owner needs to do is point out the hazard–the puddle of water–was open and obvious to any reasonable person who was paying attention to their surroundings.

Carroll v. Carnival Corporation

But, if you will pardon the pun, it is not always obvious when a hazard is “open and obvious.” Judges and juries need to carefully weigh the available evidence in a given case. Even where the danger is ultimately found to be open and obvious, that does not always completely absolve the property owner of liability.

In July 2019, a woman from Lawrenceville attended her son’s football practice at a local field. The woman walked by the field’s bleachers when she slipped and fell on an uncovered drain. She suffered injuries as a result of this fall and subsequently sued Gwinnett County, which operated the field, and a number of related parties, mostly unidentified county employees. The now-plaintiff alleged that the County’s failure to properly maintain or repair the drain caused her accident.

Gwinnett County, GA, v. Ashby

Gwinnett County promptly moved to dismiss the lawsuit. It cited the longstanding legal principle of “sovereign immunity,” which holds that a person cannot sue the state or any of its subdivisions–such as a county–unless their claims are expressly authorized by the Georgia General Assembly. The County insisted that no such legislative waiver of sovereign immunity applied to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In response, the plaintiff cited a state law known as the Recreational Property Act (RPA).

In a premises liability claim, an accident victim alleges that a property victim’s negligence caused his or her injury. Depending on the facts of the case, the property owner may raise one or more defenses, including what is known as “assumption of the risk.” Basically, this means that the evidence shows the plaintiff “had full knowledge” of the particular hazard that caused the injury, that the plaintiff “understood and appreciated” this risk, and that they “voluntarily chose to act” of their own free will knowing they might be injured.

Hoose v. United States

A recent decision from a federal judge in Macon, Hose v. United States, illustrates how assumption of the risk is applied by courts in practice. This case involved a personal injury lawsuit against the federal government. The plaintiff was making a delivery to Robins Air Force Base (RAFB). According to the plaintiff, he regularly made deliveries to the commissary at RAFB and was thus familiar with its layout.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued a decision, Handberry v. Manning Forestry Services, LLC, addressing an unusual personal injury claim. This case involved a man who died after falling into an abandoned well. The plaintiff, the victim’s widow, subsequently sued a number of defendants that she alleged were negligent in failing to address the hazard posed by the well prior to her husband’s death.

According to court records, the victim was driving a four-wheeler on private property with the permission of the owner. At some point, one of the four-wheeler’s tires “entered a well that was hidden by vegetation.” The vehicle overturned, throwing the victim into the well, where he sustained fatal injuries.

The defendants in this case included several companies that previously performed work on the property in question. The plaintiff based her claims on a specific Georgia statute, OCGA § 44-1-14, which deals with the “abatement of hazard” from an “abandoned well or hole.” In this context, an abandoned well is “any man-made opening on the surface of the earth which is 10 feet or more in depth and which has not been used for a period of 60 days.”

Last year we discussed a case where the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a residential lease between a landlord and tenant could be used to shorten the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim from two years to just one year. The plaintiff tenant subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Georgia to review that decision. The Supreme Court agreed to do so, and on October 21, it issued a decision reversing the Court of Appeals.

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC

To briefly review the facts of this case, the plaintiff rented an apartment from the defendant. One day, the plaintiff fell in a common area of the apartment complex. She maintains her fall was the result of improper maintenance, specifically with respect to a portion of the curb where her food got caught. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

All Georgia business owners need to take reasonable steps in keeping their premises safe for customers. The key word here is “reasonable.” The law does not require businesses to guarantee safety against all possible or conceivable threats to a customer’s well-being.

Hill v. MM Gas & Food Mart, Inc.

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Hill v. MM Gas & Food Mart, Inc., helps to illustrate this principle. This case involves an October 2013 incident at a Macon convenience store owned by the defendant. The plaintiff and a friend entered the store to purchase lottery tickets. While waiting at the counter, the plaintiff “heard gunshots and the sound of breaking glass.” He then “felt a burning sensation on his head” and fell to the floor.

Personal injury lawsuits against the State of Georgia or any state agency must strictly comply with the terms of the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA). The GTCA is a state law that waives Georgia’s normal “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits. Before anyone can file a claim under the GTCA, for instance, the claimant must provide advance notice to the state. This notice must be delivered within one year of the claimant’s injury and needs to include a number of specific items, such as the place where the injury occurred, the “nature of the loss suffered,” and the amount claimed for said injury or loss.

The reasoning behind the notice requirement is to give the state an opportunity to conduct its own investigation into the claimant’s allegations and, where possible, the ability to settle the claim without the need for litigation. This is why it is critical for claimants to provide as much information as required by law.

Bailey v. Georgia World Congress Center

Georgia property owners are required to exercise “ordinary care” in keeping their invited guests and members of the public safe. This does not mean the owner must absolutely guarantee a person’s safety. For example, under most circumstances the owner is not liable for a criminal act committed by a third party on its property. This is considered an “intervening” act that absolves the owner of any liability. However, there is an exception to this general rule when there is evidence that the criminal act itself was “reasonably foreseeable” by the owner.

Rautenberg v. Pope

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Rautenberg v. Pope, offers a useful explanation of when a crime may be considered “foreseeable.” The plaintiff in this case is a semi-truck driver. He rented a parking space for his truck from the defendant. One day, the plaintiff parked his truck in his space and retired to his sleeping cab. Sometime later, the plaintiff awoke to find “an individual at the window with a tool–a long pry bar or screwdriver.” The man quickly left. The plaintiff then exited his cab and found himself on the step of another truck that was parked beside his vehicle. The other man was driving this truck. He started to drive away–with the plaintiff “hanging on the side mirror.” Eventually, the plaintiff fell off the other truck, which proceeded to run him over twice.

In some personal injury cases, expert testimony is necessary to help establish causation. For example, if you sue your doctor for medical malpractice, you will need to present testimony from another qualified physician who can explain exactly what your doctor did wrong and how that “caused” your alleged injury. Other cases do not typically require such testimony. If you slip and fall on a puddle of water in the middle of a grocery store, you do not need an expert to explain what caused you to fall.

Wilson v. Kroger Co.

What if the defendant alleges another potential cause of a plaintiff’s injuries? Does the plaintiff need to call on an expert witness to rebut this alternate explanation? A federal judge in Atlanta recently addressed such a situation.

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make following a serious accident is to not contact a lawyer. In some cases, the negligent party who caused the accident will try and convince the victim that it is unnecessary to speak with an attorney. The negligent party may even make promises to “take care of” the victim’s damages without the need for them to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Golden Isles Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Lowie

Unfortunately, such promises may be nothing more than a delaying tactic. The negligent party may simply be trying to keep the victim from filing a claim until it is too late–i.e., after the statute of limitations has expired.

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