Articles Posted in Premises Liability

sebastian-pociecha-393843-copy-300x169A Georgia court of appeals recently reversed judgment in a slip and fall case in which a woman was badly injured at a church. The case is an example of why letting a case continue to a jury for a true judgment is risky, particularly when reasonable minds can disagree about the issue of liability. It is also an important lesson for property owners who invite the public to visit, and the responsibilities that entails. If you have questions regarding an injury you incurred on someone else’s property, reach out to an Atlanta premises liability lawyer today.

This case began in July of 2015 when a woman was leaving the funeral services for her mother. As if that event was not enough for her to deal with on that day, as she was leaving the church where the services were held, she was seriously injured after falling on the stairs. As a result she broke her leg, and sustained other serious injuries, as well.

The Evidence in This Case

clark-young-143622-copy-300x200What happens when a person slips and falls at a business, and gets injured as a result? That is a question that has to be answered far too often for those who patronize the businesses in and around the Atlanta area. For those who are injured by slipping and falling at a place of business, or other place where they were invited, there is an answer. Georgia law protects the rights of those injured, that is why contacting a great Atlanta premises liability lawyer to enforce those rights in in your best interest.

The area of the law that protects those injured after slipping and falling is part of the wider body of law known as personal injury, or tort law. The basic premise of all tort law is that all of us (including property owners) are under an obligation to act reasonably so as to prevent others from being injured because of our negligence. This duty to act in a prudent and reasonable manner extends to property owners via premises liability laws.

Property Owner’s Duty

hannah-morgan-39891-copy-300x200A property owner in Atlanta or anywhere in Georgia has certain duties when inviting a member of the public onto his or her land, building, or property. One of the primary duties is to keep the place safe. This is a mainstay in our system of justice, and is meant to obligate property owners to maintain and keep their property in safe condition for those who enter. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, reach out to an Atlanta premises liability lawyer right away.

While property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe, it is not absolute. There are rules, regulations, and court opinions that go into what a property owner must do to ensure his or her property is safe enough for the members of the public invited onto it. These general rules are what come into dispute when a person is hurt on another’s property and seeks to be compensated for those injuries.

Georgia Court Explains Property Liability

When a case goes to trial for personal injury in Georgia, the jury may be required to make several complicated determinations.  A jury may be asked to weigh if the injured or deceased party was less than 50% negligent, and if the injured was comparatively negligent, how much damage to award the injured or deceased party with the percentage of comparative liability removed.  A federal opinion from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal reviewed a jury’s award and District Court judge’s judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants.  The jury found the deceased to be 99% negligent and awarded no damages.  The judge also granted a Judgment as a Matter of Law in favor of the defendants, asserting the estate of the deceased did not present a case with legally sufficient evidence where a reasonable jury could find for him on a material element of causation.  The Court of Appeals reversed on all issues and remanded the case for a new trial.

In this case the gentleman died as a result of his injuries from an apparent fall off of rocky promontory named “the Point”.  The deceased was staying on privately owned land as part of his membership of a private golf club.  He was taking pictures of the sunset with his friends at a location near the Point, and went off alone.  When it was discovered he was missing two to ten minutes later, a search was conducted, but ultimately unsuccessful.  His body was found the next day in the water two and a half miles from the Club.  His cause of death was listed as “polytrauma with intracranial hemorrhage and fracture of ribs/injury upper and lower extremities”.  His estate brought suit, alleging that the defendants were negligent by failing to maintain the property near the Point, failing to provide adequate warnings about the dangerous conditions of the Point, and failing to keep guests and residents from accessing the Point.  It was not disputed that while the Point was not property of the Club, it was only accessible through Club property.

sailing trailThe deceased had a urine alcohol concentration of .22, which is a different measurement than blood alcohol concentration.  The deceased’s estate presented their case, including damages of lost wages and loss of support to his children.  The jury struggled and sent notes to the judge, first indicating they could not come to a 100% agreement, and then asking if an award to the plaintiff’s estate of $0.00 was possible with a finding of negligence.  After the verdict, the deceased’s estate filed for a new trial, arguing the verdict was an impermissible compromise, the toxicology report should not have been included in the evidence, and that there was an issue with the jury instruction discussing the deceased’s status as an invitee. Continue reading

Slip and fall accidents happen everyday in businesses across the state of Georgia, causing varying levels of injury from minor scrapes and bruises, to catastrophic injury, to death. The owner or manager of a property is obliged to maintain safe premises through reasonable care. The property owner is under a duty to avoid and minimize the risk of harm to their patrons, which is achieved through regular and thorough inspection of the premises or cautioning others of a hazardous condition. Failure to uphold this obligation can result in the land owner or manger’s liability to the person or people injured.

Anyone injured by a slip-and-fall accident needs an experienced attorney at their side to navigate through the legal system. A recent state Court of Appeal Decision, J.H. Harvey Co., LLC v. Freeman, A14A0702, affirms this necessity. In this slip-and-fall case, the alleged at-fault party filed for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit and also filed a separate motion for an oral hearing, but the lower court judge ignored established case law that permits such a hearing, and granted the injured’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the case, and summarized existing case law that dictates that an oral argument, once requested in a timely manner, must be heard. The Court of Appeals noted that there was no other opportunity to present an argument prior to the determination for or against motions of summary judgment. If the trial court does not have an opportunity to hear and consider argument, then presentation of the legal issues within summary judgment to an appellate court is premature. The Court of Appeals made a narrow ruling in favor of the defendant entity, vacated the ruling, and remanded the case for a hearing on the motion.

alarm clockWhen an injured party in Georgia files suit against the property or business owner, several deadlines are instantly imposed. The initial important deadline to meet is the Statute of Limitations, which restricts the amount of time an injured party has to file suit. Most actions for personal injury must be brought within two years after the right of action accrues – generally when the injury occurs. Following the filing of the suit, deadlines for motions, claims, and answers all become integral to the success of the civil action. Understanding of applicable case law and insurance company practices are all essential in a personal injury action, but actual litigation experience is equally vital to the outcome of one’s slip-and-fall case. Continue reading

As the weather warms, Georgia’s lakes, streams and waterways will fill with enthusiasts looking for fun boating opportunities. In Georgia alone, there are more than 317,000 registered vessels. While boating can be fun, there are also safety concerns that need to be addressed when using watercraft. Speeding, reckless operation, alcohol use and bad weather can all lead to serious injuries or an accidental drowning on the water.

In 2013, there were more than a hundred boating accidents, some that even caused fatalities according to a wildlife commission report. Because of the risks involved in boating, Georgia law requires boat operators to take certain precautions to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

Safety tips to reduce risks of boating accidents

When an injury occurs in Georgia, determining the best course of legal action is key to the successful recovery of damages.  A recent case from the Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals highlights the choice of legal theory and how it is presented at trial can result in an unfavorable outcome.  In Thews v. Wal-mart Stores, Inc. (No. 13-11455) the appellate court addressed the questions of whether the injured woman presented a theory of general negligence at trial, and whether the Federal District Court erred in issuing a Judgment as a Matter of Law (JMOL) against the injured.  To make these determinations, the federal court applied Florida substantive law. Upon review, the Court ultimately upheld the JMOL against the injured woman and agreed that the legal theory of general negligence was not presented at trial.

shopping cartsThe woman suffered a catastrophic injury after she fell in the shopping cart vestibule at Wal-Mart.  The injured woman suffered serious spinal injuries which required surgery to place two titanium rods and eight screws into her spine.  When the woman fell in the vestibule, a Wal-Mart employee was pushing carts into the vestibule, but the Court of Appeals pointed to a lack of available evidence which would connect the moving stack of carts with the woman’s injuries.  To recover monetary damages in any civil action, the plaintiff must show that the alleged at-fault party owed the injured a duty, and that the failure to uphold this duty resulted in the injuries suffered by the plaintiff.  In this case, the woman alleged that Wal-Mart failed in its duty to her by failing to properly train its employees, improperly designing and maintaining the shopping cart vestibule area, and failing to warn customers that the shopping cart might be pushed toward them.  The Court of Appeals pointed out that the Complaint did not allege vicarious liability against Wal-Mart for negligence of its employees in mishandling shopping carts.

In personal injury actions, employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees performed while they were working.  The Court of Appeals pointed out that the injured’s complaint didn’t point to the employee’s actions as the cause of the woman’s injuries.  Had the complaint included this allegation, the jury may have been able to consider whether the employee negligently performed his duties while pushing the carts, and that as his employer Wal-Mart was also responsible and ultimately liable for the woman’s injuries.  Instead, the injured’s case at trial focused on safety rules and Wal-Mart’s duty to make sure they are followed so that patrons can take a cart and remain uninjured.  There injured’s case did not focus on the negligence of the employees or Wal-Mart’s liability as an employer.  The Court of Appeals noted that in pursuit of the allegations in the complaint, the jury was not provided with any evidence or testimony that would reveal the  industry standard of care for shopping cart vestibules.  Based on this absence of evidence to uphold the legal theory presented, the Court of Appeals upheld the JMOL against the injured. Continue reading

A woman leaving a graduation ceremony fell into an opening when she stepped from a sidewalk onto the roadway.  Her leg became stuck in a hole on the curb where rainwater drains from the road.  The woman sued the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent of facilities, the principal of the school, and the director of maintenance of the school system.  The injured woman argued in Austin v. Clark, S13G1590, that the defendants failed to inspect the property and neglected to maintain and repair the sidewalk and road.

traffic-coneThe defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on their alleged statutory rights to sovereign immunity.  Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that’s been developed through statute and case law that provides the government protection from lawsuits so the government can function without being hindered by legal actions.  The Georgia Constitution provides protection to the state departments and agencies for all claims unless they are based on a written contract or fall under the Georgia Tort Claims Act where immunity has been waived. O.C.G.A. Section 50-21-23 waives the immunity for tortious acts of state officers and employees who are acting within the scope of their official duties or employment.  The state is liable as a citizen or entity would have been liable under the same circumstances.  This applies to state courts only and does not include any action within the United States.

The Supreme Court focused on whether the acts or failure to act of the school officials were violation of a ministerial or discretionary duty.  A ministerial act is when someone executes a specific duty – something that is simple, absolute, and definite.  A discretionary act is when the person exercised judgment and acted outside of their direction.  If a public officer or agent was performing a ministerial act, he or she can be held personally liable, but if the public officer or agent was performing a discretionary act, they cannot be held liable unless the act is willful, wanton, or outside the scope of his or her authority.  The Supreme Court reasoned that the distinction between the two is very fact-specific, and that up to the point of the initial dismissal, there were not enough facts provided of the job descriptions of the defendants to completely rule out the possibility of the defendants performing ministerial acts.  The Supreme Court ruled that summary judgment was not appropriate and reversed the prior decisions of the trial court and Court of Appeals. Continue reading

When used improperly, a trampoline can be a very dangerous devise. The possibility of danger increases when there is no supervision while a trampoline is in use. The dangers of trampolines apply to personal use trampolines as well as commercial use at a recreation center.

When a person has been injured in a trampoline accident, the injured party generally has three causes of action to use to file a claim for compensation:

  • Defective Design. This claim is usually used when the product itself was defective and the injury was a direct result of that defect.

If your child is on another person’s property with permission, then they are by Georgia law called an “invitee.” This means that the owner of the property the child is on has a duty to ensure safety from any foreseeable harm. In turn, this means that if a property owner can foresee a dangerous situation, then reasonable preventative steps need to be taken to ensure that the children are safe. Dangerous situations include swimming pools, chemicals, access to high traffic areas, access to medicine, and high crime areas. Remember, even if a child was trespassing, you as an owner can be held liable under the “attractive nuisance” law.

You may have a premises liability case or attractive nuisance law case if your child was injured or killed on someone else’s property. Contact one of our premises liability attorneys for a free consultation to see if you are eligible for compensation.

Property owners are required to protect children from hidden dangers because children cannot foresee or avoid dangers. Therefore, proper safeguards need to be taken to ensure their safety and protect them from all dangers. This includes locking cabinets, plugging outlets, putting sharp objects out of reach, locking doors and gates, and having someone at the house while children play.