Georgia Premises Liability breakdown, pt. 1 of 4:
Before I dedicated my legal career to fighting for injury victims and their families, I spent my first 6 years out of law school representing large multinational retail chains, gas stations, supermarkets, apartment complexes, hotels, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, frequently in cases where someone slipped or tripped and fell and was injured on their property. If you are injured on the property of a business, the business may be legally accountable.
Slip and fall cases—and their close relative, “trip and fall” cases—are both subcategories of a larger body of Georgia negligence law referred to as “premises liability.” Premises liability is simply a collection of Georgia statutes and appellate court decisions that combine to form the guidelines that dictate when a person can recover damages when injured on the property (e.g., “premises”) of another.
The threshold in Georgia slip and fall law is O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. That statute says:
“Where an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.”
The two most important initial questions triggered by this statute are (1) was the injured person “invited” to the premises; and (2) was the injured person there for a lawful purpose? This is a pretty easy test to pass. Generally speaking, it includes anyone who visits a business to purchase or to consider purchasing the business’s goods or services, or visiting someone who is lawfully at a property. Customers of a store; movie theater and restaurant patrons; and tenants and people visiting someone who is a tenant at an apartment complex are all “invitees” who are protected by this statute.
The next issue is whether the premises owner or occupier exercised “reasonable care” to keep the premises and approaches safe. “Reasonable care” simply means the degree of care that a reasonable premises owner would exercise under similar circumstances to keep the people safe. In the context of trip or slip and fall cases, this generally hinges on whether the premises occupier had adequate policies and procedures in place to identify and fix any conditions that could make someone fall and get hurt. If the premises occupier knows about a hazard (e.g., a hole in a parking lot; a puddle of milk in the aisle; stairs not up to code; an HVAC system leaking water onto the floor) and fails to correct it, they have not exercised reasonable care.
Likewise, if the premises owner/occupier had no reasonable procedures in place to discover and cure trip/slip and fall hazards, they can also be liable. And even if they did have reasonable procedures in place, if they failed to follow these procedures, they can be liable for that too.
Trip/slip and fall cases have developed a particularly bad reputation over the years in the eyes of the general public, many of whom feel that they are largely or entirely fraudulent (some of us may recall Ezekiel’s epic “slip and fall” scene in the classic movie “Friday”). In reality, as someone who has investigated countless of these incidents on behalf of both premises owners and injury victims over the years, I can assure you they are almost never fraudulent or staged. I have only encountered one case out of hundreds where the fall was staged or exaggerated.
There are other issues that must be fully explored to determine whether a person can recover in a slip or trip-and-fall case. These include whether the injured person had some knowledge about the hazard, and whether s/he exercised reasonable care for their own safety. I will address these in further detail in the upcoming Part Two of our premises liability series.
If you or someone you know has been injured on the premises of another, call The York Firm at 404-990-3388 for a free legal consultation today.