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Law in Georgia on Slip and Falls Warrants Appellate Court Reversal

 

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently overturned the grant to Defendants of a Motion for Summary Judgment by a DeKalb County (Georgia) Trial Court in Duff v. Board of Regents, No. A17A0438. The three judge panel reversed DeKalb County Trial Judge Janis Gordon’s granting of Summary Judgment to the Defense when Judge Gordon concluded that rainwater, tracked onto the floor by other students causing Plaintiff to slip & fall, was not, as a matter of law, a hazardous condition.

Judge Doyle, in writing for the Court, cited the seminal premises liability case of Robinson v. Kroger, but the Plaintiffs won on the facts, which were: (1) the rainwater caused the Plaintiff to fall, but the water she slipped in was not near the door entry, but deep into the building; and (2) plaintiff had no way to know that it was even raining, because she had come from a classrooms and hallways that had no windows, so she was unable to expect rainwater on the floor in that location.

Most premises liability cases, at least in the initial stages of litigation, turn on the facts as applied to the Robinson v. Kroger factors. In Robinson, the Supreme Court held that

to recover for injuries sustained in a slip-and-fall action, an invitee [Plaintiff] must prove (1) that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and (2) that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard despite the exercise of ordinary care due to actions or conditions within the control of the owner/occupier. However, the plaintiff’s evidentiary proof concerning the second prong is not shouldered until the defendant establishes negligence on the part of the plaintiff—i.e., that the plaintiff intentionally and unreasonably exposed self to a hazard of which the plaintiff knew or, in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known.

The Robinson Court also concluded that “we must disapprove of the appellate decisions which hold as a matter of law that an invitee’s failure to see before falling the hazard which caused the invitee to fall constitutes a failure to exercise ordinary care. We also take issue with the Court of Appeals’ holding in the case at bar that an invitee fails to exercise ordinary care for personal safety as a matter of law when the invitee admits she failed to look at the location where she subsequently placed her foot. Demanding as a matter of law that an invitee visually inspect each footfall requires an invitee to look continuously at the floor for defects, a task an invitee is not required to perform since the invitee is entitled to assume that the owner/occupier has exercised reasonable care to make the premises safe for the invitee and continues to exercise such care while the invitee remains on the premises. As reasonable minds can differ, taking into account all the circumstances at the time and place of the incident, the evidence does not plainly, palpably, and indisputably lead to the conclusion that the invitee’s placement of her foot on a site she had not previously inspected visually is an act which is a “want of such prudence as the ordinarily careful person would use in a like situation.” (internal citations omitted).

As evidenced by the Duff decision above, and from Robinson and its progeny, summary judgment should be granted very sparingly in these cases (unlike the law prior to Robinson). As the courts have pointed out: As reasonable minds can differ, taking into account all the circumstances at the time and place of the incident, the evidence does not plainly, palpably, and indisputably lead to the conclusion that the invitee’s placement of her foot on a site she had not previously inspected visually is an act which is a “want of such prudence as the ordinarily careful person would use in a like situation.” In other words, this type of situation (i.e., whether a slip and fall was caused by negligence of the defendants and/or was the Plaintiff of being contributory negligent) is a question of fact for the jury and not a question of law that is ripe for summary judgment.

Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dental malpractice, bus accidents, car accident cases and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties and nearby cities including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured and would like discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.