Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a slip-and-fall case that occurred when a customer at a car dealership tripped on a wooden game board that dealership staff had placed there as a promotion. Ultimately, the court determined that because the hazard was open and obvious, and because the plaintiff had already successfully negotiated her way around it several times earlier that day, the case should be dismissed.

Watch Out!Case Facts

The plaintiff decided she was in the market for a new truck, and went to the defendant’s dealership to check out their stock. When she got to the showroom she noticed a sales associate was sitting in an office across the room, and she approached. In so doing, the plaintiff had to make her way around the four-foot-long wooden board that was placed there as part of a promotional game.

Once in the associate’s office, she had a brief conversation and then left to go see the inventory, again passing the wooden board. A few moments later the plaintiff returned to the showroom, passing the wooden board, and initiated another conversation with the associate. Once finished, she started to leave, but was stopped when the associate asked her a final question. After she answered, she turned around and left his office, tripping on the wooden board.

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In January of this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a premises liability case filed by a woman who was injured as she attempted to enter a fast-food restaurant. The court ultimately affirmed the dismissal of the woman’s case, based on the fact that her testimony failed to establish that her fall was caused by any action or omission of the defendant restaurant manager.

Fast FoodThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was entering a fast-food restaurant through a set of two double-doors. The plaintiff successfully made it through the first set of doors and into the foyer. However, she encountered a problem opening the second set of doors. According to the woman’s testimony, she was “rattling” the door handle, and it seemed jammed. She kept pushing the door and then fell to the ground, requiring that she be taken to the hospital.

The woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the restaurant’s manager. Before trial, the woman was deposed by the defendant’s attorney. She was asked how she fell and responded “I just was pushing on the door, and the next thing I remember right now is just falling.” When pressed about the cause of her fall, she responded “it happened so fast. Just like, I just remember pushing on the door, and the next thing I remember is just sitting there.” The woman explained that after she fell, she noticed that the ground was damp because it had been raining outside. She recalled that there was a mat in the foyer, although she was unable to remember if the mat was wet.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a premises liability case that arose after a fuel delivery driver was run over while checking the fuel levels on the defendant’s fuel reserve tank. In the case, the court reversed a lower court ruling that had dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. The Georgia Court of Appeals based its decision on the “untenable choice” that the plaintiff was forced to make when it came to staying safe while working or keeping his job.

Gas StationGeorgia Premises Liability Law

In Georgia, in order for a premises liability plaintiff to succeed, they must prove the defendant’s “failure to exercise ordinary care” in keeping the premises safe. In addition, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, the plaintiff must also show he lacked knowledge of the dangerous condition. This last requirement has come to be known as the “superior/equal knowledge doctrine.” Essentially, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s knowledge of the hazard was greater than his own.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in North Dakota issued a written opinion affirming the dismissal of a plaintiff’s premises liability lawsuit against the government entity in charge of maintaining the park where the plaintiff’s injury occurred. In the case, Frith v. City of Fargo, the court clarified that the applicable statute of limitations in the plaintiff’s case imposed a three-year timeframe in which the lawsuit must be filed. Since the plaintiff filed her lawsuit after three years had elapsed since her injury, the lower court was proper in dismissing the lawsuit.

FootpathThe Plaintiff Trips While Rollerblading in a Park Maintained by the Defendant

The plaintiff, Frith, was injured on July 7, 2012, when she fell while rollerblading in Fargo Park, a park that was operated by the defendant. Evidently, Frith ran over an area of soft material used to cover up cracks in the pavement. As she ran over the patching material, she lost her balance and fell.

Frith filed a premises liability lawsuit against the Park District of the City of Fargo, claiming that the City was negligent in allowing the dangerous condition to exist on the pathway. The lawsuit was initially filed in July 2015, just days before the three-year anniversary of the injury. However, since the plaintiff failed to properly serve the City, she had to re-serve the City, and the lawsuit was not technically filed until September, when the plaintiff effectuated proper service.

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Most people who have been to an amusement park, ski resort, or concert venue have seen the small print printed on the back of their ticket. Far fewer people have actually taken the time to read and understand what the text says. However, this language is very important because it contains crucial information about the rights the ticket holder has should something go wrong while they are participating in the activity. And regardless of whether the ticket holder knows it, in most cases, proceeding to engage in the activity can actually act as an acceptance of the terms contained in this small print.

ContractOne important term that businesses often slip into the small print is an arbitration clause. An arbitration clause is a contractual term between two parties that acts as an agreement not to use the court system should something go wrong. Rather than use the court system, the injured or aggrieved party agrees to submit their claim to an arbitration panel that will decide whether the claim has merit and if so, how much the injured party is entitled to receive.

Arbitration has many benefits for businesses, including lowering the cost of defending a claim and keeping the results of all claims confidential. Additionally, since the business determines which arbitration company hears the claims against it, the results tend to favor businesses over those who are seeking relief. Generally speaking, arbitration should be avoided by personal injury plaintiffs, if possible. However, since companies often slip arbitration clauses into their contracts, sometimes victims do not have a choice.

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Earlier last month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who slipped and fell in the defendant’s grocery store. In the case, Youngblood v. All American Quality Foods, the court ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence showing that the defendant grocery store knew of the dangerous condition causing Youngblood’s fall. The court also held that, even if the defendant did have actual knowledge of the hazardous condition, store employees took reasonable care in tending to it.

Wet FloorThe Facts

Youngblood was shopping at the defendant grocery store when she slipped in a puddle of water in the beverage aisle. There was no evidence indicating where the puddle of water came from, and Youngblood testified that she did not see the puddle before stepping in it. At some point around the same time as Youngblood’s fall, another customer told the store’s management that there was a spill in the beverage aisle. It was not established whether this was before or after Youngblood’s fall. However, by the time a store employee arrived at the spill with cleaning supplies, Youngblood had already fallen.

As a result of her fall, Youngblood sustained injuries and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the store. The store argued that there was no proof that it had knowledge of the spill prior to Youngblood’s fall, and even if the other customer did alert management to the spill moments before the fall, the employees acted in a reasonable manner in tending to the spill.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall case against a grocery store because the plaintiff was unable to present sufficient evidence that the accident was caused by the store’s negligence. In the case of Edwards v. Hy-Vee, the court determined that there was insufficient evidence to show that the defendant grocery store caused the dangerous condition that resulted in the plaintiff’s fall, and there was also insufficient evidence that the store employees even knew of the condition’s existence.

Watermelon SlicesThe Facts of the Case

Mrs. Edwards was with her young daughter, shopping at a grocery store operated by Hy-Vee. On her way out of the store, Edwards slipped and fell on what appeared to be a piece of watermelon. As she got up, she noticed that a Hy-Vee employee was handing out watermelon samples just a few feet away.

Edwards filed a premises liability lawsuit against Hy-Vee, arguing that the grocery store should be liable for her damages. She made two main claims. First, she asserted that the grocery store caused the dangerous condition leading to her fall. Second, she claimed that even if the store didn’t cause the condition to be present, it was negligent in failing to clean it up in a timely manner.

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Lawsuits claiming that one party caused another party’s injuries are based on the legal theory of negligence. While each state has different laws regarding what must be proven in order to succeed on a negligence claim, most jurisdictions require four elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. If a plaintiff fails to provide the court with adequate proof of any of these required elements, a judge or jury is not legally permitted to find in the plaintiff’s favor. That is exactly what happened in a recent case filed by a man who was injured on the grounds of a local park.

Wood FenceWheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli

Mr. Dattoli and his wife were attending an event at Wheeling Park. Since there were no seats available, the Dattolis decided to walk to the top of a nearby hill where they could get a good view of the action. However, at some point, Mr. Dattoli wanted to find a place to relax, so he looked for an object he could lean up against. He quickly checked the nearby split-rail fence and placed his weight against the fence. As Mr. Dattoli did so, he fell through the fence and down the hill. He injured his shoulder, requiring surgery and months of physical therapy.

The Dattolis filed a negligence lawsuit against the management of the park, claiming that the management failed to keep the property safe for guests. At trial, the Director of Operations for the park testified. He explained that the fence was replaced last sometime between 1970 and 1990. He also explained that the fence, which was made of wood, had a life expectancy, and the park’s management was in the best position to know whether the fence needed to be replaced. After the trial, the jury awarded the Dattolis roughly $36,000 in damages.

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Earlier this month, one state’s supreme court issued an opinion in a premises liability case reversing what was a favorable verdict to the plaintiff based on errors the trial judge made in instructing the jury. In the case, Alcala v. Marriott International, the court determined that there was no basis for several of the court’s instructions to the jury, and since the jury returned a general verdict, not specifying under which theory the defendant was negligent, a new trial was required.

Brick PathThe Facts of the Case

Alcala was staying at a Marriott hotel when she slipped and fell on some ice that had accumulated outside one of the hotel’s main entrances. At trial, an employee on duty at the time of the accident testified that she would shovel the snow and then apply a deicer to melt any residual ice underneath the accumulated snow. She testified that no one told her too much deicer could prevent the substance from working.

Experts also testified for each side. Alcala’s expert focused on how slippery the sidewalk was when it was covered in ice, asserting that the industry standard was to apply a deicing agent when necessary. Marriott’s expert, however, focused on the concrete itself, explaining that the industry standard is to “broom finish” the concrete to give it traction, but there was no industry standard for when to apply a deicing agent.

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Earlier this month, one state’s supreme court handed down an opinion in a premises liability case involving a woman who was seriously injured while attending a firework display at her local fairground. In the case, Woody v. Pembina County Annual Fair & Exhibition Association, the court ultimately determined that the defendant was immune from liability based on an exception to the general rule that landowners owe a duty of care to those they invite onto their property.

fireworks-1564353The Facts of the Case

Woody was attending a free firework display at her local fairground. As she was looking for a seat in the wooden grandstand, she stepped on a piece of rotten floorboard and fell to the ground, seriously injuring herself as a result. After recovering from her injuries, she filed a premises liability lawsuit against the fairground, claiming that it was responsible for her injuries because of its failure to keep the grandstand in safe working order.

Generally speaking, landowners have a duty to make sure that their property is safe for those they invite onto their land. This often includes a duty to inspect the premises for dangers that may not be apparent to visitors and may catch them off guard. As common sense would dictate, the level of responsibility to a visitor depends on the relationship between the property owner and the visitor. For example, the duty a landowner owes to a trespasser is far different from that owed to a customer visiting a commercial establishment.

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