Premises liability is an area of the law that allows negligent property owners and operators to be held liable for the injuries that others suffer on their premises. These cases can involve slip-and-fall injuries, swimming pool accidents, dog bites or injuries caused by the failure to provide adequate security.
The attorneys of James M. Poe, P.C., take pride in providing professional, personalized legal assistance to those in Atlanta and throughout Georgia who have suffered injuries on the property of another. If you would like to receive a free and comprehensive review of your case, please contact us today by phone or through our online form.
The following are answers to frequently asked questions in this area of the law. Our goal is to provide you with a general understanding of issues that may arise in your own case.
Keep in mind: Every premises liability case requires a close examination of the case’s unique facts.
Premises Liability FAQ
How could a store owner be held responsible if I slipped and fell and suffered an injury inside the store?
A claim for a slip-and-fall accident is known as a premises liability case. A property owner who has been negligent in maintaining the safety of the owner’s premises – store, office building, hotel, motel, apartment complex or private home – may be held liable for a visitor’s injuries.
The principle of premises liability is that a property owner has an obligation to ensure the safety of visitors by eliminating hazards in a timely manner or ensuring that a reasonable person would recognize that the hazard exists and avoid it. Property owners are allowed a reasonable amount of time to recognize that a hazard is present and to take steps to eliminate or warn about it.
Slip-and-fall claims are the most common type of premises liability case. These cases may involve a property owner’s failure to correct a hazard such as spilled liquid or merchandise that has fallen from a store’s shelf. It could also be a matter of failing to repair a pothole in a parking lot, faulty escalator, loose handrail on a stairway or a burned out light in a common area.
In Georgia, a premises liability lawsuit may also be pursued because of negligent security that results in a criminal assault or significant theft. For example, if someone is attacked or robbed at a motel or an apartment complex because doors to common areas did not lock properly and an assailant was allowed to enter, or if appropriate warnings about such potential problems were not given to customers, then a claim could possibly be pursued.
A premises liability claim can also depend on whether a plaintiff was an invitee, licensee or trespasser, as the law identifies those terms.
Can I pursue a premises liability claim if I slipped, fell and hurt my back in a puddle of soda in a store?
A store owner can and should be held liable for injuries that are caused by “foreign substances” such as spilled liquid in a store aisle if the owner knew or should have known that the spill had occurred.
As a customer in a store, you are an invitee. In other words, you are someone who has been invited on the property for not only your own benefit but for the benefit of the store owner as well. As an invitee, you have a right to expect that the store owner has taken reasonable steps to make the store safe for customers. The owner has a duty to fix or warn about any hazards the owner knows about or should know about through reasonable inspection of the store.
So, in this example, if a store employee was aware of the spilled soda but failed to clean it up or place a warning sign of some description next to it, or if the store failed to implement or adhere to a reasonable inspection policy aimed at identifying and eliminating hazardous conditions like spills or foreign objects on the floor, you may have a valid premises liability claim if you suffered injuries in a slip and fall.
However, one key issue that such cases turn on is the knowledge each party had of the hazardous condition. Recovery is only permitted if you did not have equal knowledge of the hazardous condition. This means that if you had clearly seen the spill before you walked through it, you won’t have a valid claim for any injuries that resulted from your fall. This is because you knew about the hazard and knowingly exposing yourself to the risk.
The answer will depend on when the ice formed, how much time has passed and whether the store owner knew about the ice or should have known about it by making a reasonable inspection of the parking lot. It also depends on whether you knew about the ice.
Similar to a case involving a spilled liquid in a store aisle, a naturally occurring condition such as an accumulation of ice in a store parking lot or on a sidewalk in front of the store can present a valid premises liability claim based on a property owner’s negligent maintenance of the property.
However, there are important issues which must be determined. If employees had been in the parking lot, noticed the ice and could have done something about it, or if the ice had been there for so long that it reasonably should have been addressed, those facts would weigh in favor of finding liability for the store owner.
However, if you knew about the hazard – for instance, you jumped over the ice patch on your way into the store and then absentmindedly walked across the same patch while you were walking back to your car and slipped, you would have had equal knowledge of the hazard, and would be unable to recover.
Even as an invitee, you must exercise reasonable care for your own safety, which includes keeping a lookout for open or obvious hazards, and taking reasonable steps to avoid them.
It will be important to know whether the owner took steps to limit the pool’s accessibility to trespassing children.
Residential swimming pools are sometimes referred to as “attractive nuisances” due to the fact that they may appeal to curious children who are unaware of their potential danger. Pool owners and operators who have reason to anticipate the presence of trespassing children have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep children from accessing these hazards, like erecting and maintaining a fence to keep children out.
A swimming pool accident case may turn on the owner’s compliance – or lack of compliance – with local zoning ordinances that may require fences of a certain height to be erected around residential swimming pools (and spas) as well as the use of latched gates and other safety measures. The child’s mental and physical capacities may also be factors.
The answer depends on whether there was a history of similar criminal assaults at the apartment complex that the owner was aware of and whether the owner’s knowledge was shared with you prior to the incident.
As with the previous two examples, the key factor in determining whether liability exists is going to be the parties’ relative knowledge of the risk that a violent crime could occur.
If the owner knew of non-violent crimes that had previously occurred at the complex, that might not be sufficient to notify the owner of the risk that a violent attack could occur. However, if there is a history of similar assaults at a particular location, and the owner has failed to take reasonable steps to protect residents and visitors like adding security cameras or additional lighting or hiring additional security, then the owner may be liable.
These are commonly known as negligent security cases. In these cases, the details of an incident and all past incidents are crucial in assessing potential liability
Additionally, where an owner attempted to take such reasonable steps such as hiring a contractor to provide security guards or cameras, and the contractor failed to live up to the duty it assumed to provide the apartment complex owner with security, it is possible that the contractor could liable for the damages suffered by the injured party. The owner can be liable for negligently providing security under some circumstances.
There will be two important considerations in this type of dog bite case: The ability to establish liability, and the ability to collect compensation.
Under Georgia law, in order to establish liability for an injury caused by a dog bite, the injured party must establish that the owner was aware of the dog’s aggressive or dangerous disposition. This could be established by showing that the dog had previously attacked a person.
Liability may also rest on the owner’s violation of a local ordinance that requires dogs to be leashed or to be otherwise confined. Each case requires identification of key facts before an assessment can be made.
The other major issue in this example is the ability to recover compensation. Nobody wants to lose a friend over a legal dispute, so it is natural to be hesitant about bringing a legal claim against a friend. In most cases, injuries like those suffered in a dog attack on your friend’s property will be covered by the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance.
The amount that can be recovered in a premises liability claim will depend on many different factors. However, there are certain types of damages that are typically sought.
These damages are:
- Special damages – These damages would compensate you for financial losses such as past and future medical expenses, past, present and future lost wages, property damage, and any permanent impairment of your earning capacity.
- General damages – These damages would cover non-economic losses, or losses that are not readily quantifiable, like past, present and future physical and mental pain and suffering, emotional distress, shock, fright and humiliation.
In some very limited instances, punitive damages may be recovered. These are damages intended to punish, penalize and deter defendants from willful and wanton misconduct or conscious indifference to consequences. Special rules apply to punitive damages so the potential must be evaluated on a case by case basis.