Slip and Fall Cases in Savannah

Georgia Slip and Fall Laws and Premises Liability

When someone trips and falls or slips and falls in Savannah and gets hurt, there are often questions about what assistance the law can provide. The key to understanding when a property owner is legally responsible and when they are not is understanding two things:

1. Legal responsibility is not automatic
2. Responsibility is all based on knowledge of the danger; does the property owner know of a danger that the victim does not?

Premises liability laws apply most often to trip and fall cases, and this area of the law is quite broad and includes many different kinds of possible claims. The term premises liability refers to the responsibility that a property owner or manager has toward members of the public who use that property. Our firm handles the following kinds of premises liability cases:

Trip and fall (or “slip and fall”) cases are probably the most well-known variety.

Rape and Assault incidents in apartment complexes and other commercial buildings are another important type of case that we handle frequently. Commonly called “negligent security cases,” these incidents involve a landlord’s failure to protect his or her tenants. Unfortunately, these incidents are so common that we have handled them in many different Georgia cities, including Riverdale, Marietta, Alpharetta, Roswell, Stone Mountain, Tifton, and Jonesboro.

What You Need to Know about Trip and Fall Cases in Georgia

The first thing we want you to understand is that you should not instantly contact a lawyer simply because you fell down while running errands at a commercial location. Before accepting a trip and fall case, our firm verifies that the fall has caused the victim to break a bone or require surgery. This does not mean that any other kinds of cases are not valid, but we want to make sure we are using our legal skills and experience to support people who have suffered a truly life-altering injury. So the first question you should consider after a fall is “Does this injury seriously require a lawyer’s involvement?”

If you decide that it does, then the second question is “who is responsible for the fall?” You need to understand that falling down on someone else’s property is not automatically the property owner’s fault. If, for example, you are walking through a local grocery store and trip over a large box of Cheerios in plain view, then according to the Open and Obvious Doctrine this is probably not the store’s fault. Since the object was large and easily visible, common sense says that you should have been watching where you were going. However, if clear-colored Sprite is spilled on a light-colored floor and the store neglects to clean it up for an unreasonable amount of time, then someone’s slip and fall injury is probably the store’s responsibility.

In order to prove that the store really is responsible, the injured person must show that the store owner 1) had “actual or constructive” knowledge about the substance or object that caused the trip or slip and 2) that the person was injured after exercising appropriate care to pay attention to his/her surroundings.

Years ago, it was common for judges to dismiss cases after the injured person admitted that he or she had not actually been looking at the ground constantly while walking. The appellate court has since decided that this is unfair, and that even if the injured person was not on constant lookout, the case can be referred to a jury.

Even since the appellate court made this decision, though, slip and fall cases are still highly vulnerable to defense lawyers’ Motions to dismiss the case actually goes to a jury. Filing a Motion for Summary Judgment allows the defense to attempt to convince the Court that there is not enough information or evidence for the jury to decide who is responsible for the injury.

In many cases, a store owner will try to get a case dismissed by presenting an inspection log that shows the store had a schedule in place to patrol for potentially dangerous spills our out-of-place objects. While the frequency with which stores are expected to conduct patrols varies according to Georgia law, for grocery stores 15-20 minutes is considered reasonable. This means that if spilled milk caused you to fall, but the store can show that they were patrolling every 15 or 20 minutes, then the Court will probably dismiss the case. While this may seem unfair, it simply does not make sense to expect store owners to patrol their property constantly.

So if a store tries this defense and says that they had appropriate patrols in place, how do our lawyers move forward? We use a careful combination of employee statements and detective work. Once a serious slip and fall or trip and fall case goes into litigation, we make sure to get statements from all employees and managers relevant to the case, as well as any implicating store records and videos. It is common for stores to claim at first that they are not responsible and a spill was there for 5 minutes, but these early statements often unravel when hourly wage employees are asked to testify under oath.

We do not want you to become discouraged because someone is insisting up-front that the store has no responsibility. Our experience has taught us that good detective work can go a long way.

Examples of Strong and Weak Slip and Fall Cases

Trip and fall in Wal-mart

Customer trips on edge of non-slip mat in the front of the store and tears shoulder ligaments. Is that a good case?

Analysis: The mat was old and had warped on the edges. The customer could prove prior knowledge of the problem because her neighbor had noticed it two weeks before and the store moved the mat every day. Because they touched it every day, they are charged with knowledge that it was a potential hazard. That knowledge leads to a duty to take action to replace the mat and the failure to do so made the store liable. Because the tear resulted in a surgery, there was a six figure settlement.

Slip and Fall at Kroger

Customer slips and falls near ice cream cooler on a puddle of water and breaks wrist. Is that a good case?

Analysis: It is if you can show that the store either knew of the spill or had a sufficient amount of time to discover it during inspections. Surveillance tapes are critical in these kinds of cases as they often show when the spill happened. The law in Georgia is that the store needs around a minimum of 20 minutes of leeway to discover a spill in order to be held legally liable. In this case we proved the time was sufficient to have been found and it led to a six figure settlement.

Slip and Fall at Publix

Customer walks into store on a rainy day and slips 15 feet into the store and breaks ankle. Is that a good case?

Analysis: No. The law is pretty clear in Georgia that on rainy days, every knows that you and the other customers are tracking rain water into the store so the customer has equal knowledge with the store. There are exceptions for giant puddles or clear problems that should have been addressed but beware, even if your case gets to the jury, juries are hard on people that blame a store for the rainwater.

Final Notes on Who Is Responsible in Premises Liability Cases

Most people realize that trespassers generally have very few rights when they enter someone else’s property without permission.  In general, property owners know that the only real duty they owe to trespassers is not to go out of their way to hurt them. There is one important corollary to this common-sense rule, though: the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. One common example of the attractive nuisance doctrine is a backyard swimming pool. Most people know that kids love to swim, so it is not uncommon for them to trespass and swim in a neighbor’s pool, even if they are not supposed to. Recently, an Atlanta-area child died after he trespassed and had an accident while swimming in a neighbor’s pool. In deciding what responsibility the pool owner had, the Appellate court finally decided that property owners are not responsible as long as they take reasonable precautions, like establishing a sizable fence.

This seems to make sense, because what more could a property owner do? But is it still possible to win a case where a trespasser has been injured? In our experience, yes. I have taken on many cases that initially looked impossible to win, such as one recent case where there was a gate, but it was unlocked and broken so that children could enter easily.  Another time, we handled a case where a child had unfortunately died after playing on exercise machines inside his apartment building’s weight room. For that case, we showed the Court that the property owners had not controlled access to the weight room, meaning that they were responsible for the accident.

The “licensee” is the second main category involving persons on someone else’s property. According to the law, property owners must avoid “wantonly and recklessly” putting licensees in non-obvious danger. Typical examples of licensees are salespeople who knock on your door and any social guests who enter your property.

People who qualify as “invitees” are the most protected category. In addition to not acting “wantonly and recklessly”, property owners are obliged to keep an area reasonably safe for invitees. Common types of invitees are handymen or anyone hired to work on the property, shoppers in stores, and others who gain access to property for mutual benefit to him- or herself and the property owner. Perhaps the most common case in Atlanta involves invitees shopping at a store like Kroger, Family Dollar, or Publix. Although many people call our offices because they have been injured at these stores, after analyzing the facts of the situation we often have to give them bad news: they simply do not have a case. In Georgia, Slip and Fall and Trip and Fall cases are not a sure win in court, and before you hire a lawyer you need to make sure that he or she is giving you a realistic idea of your case’s outcome.  

Finally, it is important to note that determining your appropriate legal status is not always straight-forward. Currently, for example, I am representing a pizza deliveryman who was shot while trying to deliver an order at an apartment complex. Although at first it seems clear that the driver was an invitee, since a tenant at the apartment complex placed the pizza order, the law is actually more complicated. If the person ordering the food never actually intended to receive it and was only trying to trick the driver into coming to the apartment, then the driver was actually a “licensee” according to the law.