If you have been hurt in a fall caused by an environmental defect or hazard, you should seek assistance from an experienced Atlanta slip and fall lawyer.
“Slip and Fall” cases are part of a larger category of tort cases that are commonly referred to as “premises liability” cases. Premises liability cases are cases in which liability is based on the failure of a property owner or occupier to exercise an appropriate degree of care toward people entering onto their property, and that failure results in injury. Like other types of injuries, slips and falls can result in serious, potentially permanent injuries that can throw a person’s life into chaos.
An attorney who understands this area of law, and has experience in handling these cases will know how to investigate your incident and explore all legal options that may be available to you.
To receive a free and confidential review of the facts in your case, contact James M. Poe, P.C. We have many years of experience with helping slip and fall victims in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. We would be glad to review your case in a free and confidential consultation.
The Elements of a Slip and Fall Claim in Georgia
To establish a viable slip and fall claim under Georgia law, the evidence must satisfy three elements:
- The owner or occupier of the premises either knew or in the exercise of ordinary care reasonably should have known of the hazard which caused the fall;
- The individual who suffered the injury had inferior knowledge of the hazard relative to the owner/occupier, despite exercising of ordinary care for his or her own safety; and
- The injured party’s inferior knowledge of the hazard was due to actions or conditions that were within the owner/operator’s control.
Classification of Entrants: Important Issue in Slip and Fall Cases
The duties that an owner/occupier of property owes to another person entering onto his or her land it determined by reference to the relationship between the owner/occupier and the entrant. In Georgia, entrants to the property of another fall within at least one of three distinct categories:
- Invitees – Invitees are individuals who have received an express or implied invitation to come onto the premises for a business purpose that would render his presence on the property of mutual aid or benefit to both parties. A customer in a store, for instance, would be an invitee, or a sales representative for one of the store’s suppliers. A property owner or occupier owes the highest duty of care to invitees – the owner must exercise ordinary care to keep the premises and approaches safe for the invitee.
- Licensees – Licensees are individuals who are permitted to come onto the premises of another, but are present solely for his or her own interests or convenience. Examples of licensees are social guests, individuals conducting door-to-door surveys, or an individual who enters into an establishment solely to use the restroom, with no intention of making a purchase. Owners owe a duty not to expose licensees knowingly to an unreasonable risk of harm, and are liable for willful or wanton injuries to licensees.
- Trespassers – Trespassers are unauthorized entrants onto the premises of an owner or occupier. The owner only owes a duty to avoid wantonly and willfully harming the trespasser. (Please see our discussion of the special considerations that apply to child trespassers.)
An invitee can become a licensee if he or she goes beyond the scope of an invitation. For instance, if a customer enters an area of the store that has been marked for “employees only,” the customer would no longer be treated under Georgia law as an invitee. However, if the owner knows of a licensee’s actual presence, then the duty owed to the licensee is the same as the duty owed to an invitee.
Hazardous Conditions Can Lead to Slip and Falls in Atlanta
Another key issue in slip and fall cases is the owner’s and the entrant’s relative knowledge of the hazardous condition that caused the fall.
Under Georgia law, the owner or occupier of property can be liable to invitees who suffer injuries due to the owner’s failure to guard against or warn of any hazardous conditions on the property that the owner knows of, or in the exercise of ordinary care reasonably should have known of at the time the fall occurred.
However, the owner must have had superior knowledge of the hazardous condition relative to the entrant. Where both the owner and the entrant have equal knowledge of the hazardous condition, the owner cannot be liable for any harm the entrant suffers – owners/occupiers are not insurers of the entrant’s safety.
Hazardous conditions can be divided into two categories:
1. Static conditions – These are patent, longstanding conditions that exist on the premises. Examples include:
- Uneven pavement
- Holes in the sidewalk
- Poorly lit stairs.
For a property owner or occupier to be liable for an injury caused by a static condition, the evidence must show that the owner had superior knowledge of the condition’s existence and of the danger presented by that condition
If the owner’s knowledge of the hazard which caused the injury is superior – relative to the invitee – then the owner has a duty to take reasonable steps to warn the entrant about the hazard so that the entrant can take appropriate steps to avoid it.
Owners/occupiers have no duty to warn of unexpected, unforeseeable or open and obvious dangers
2. Foreign substances or finishes – Examples of foreign substances or finishes include:
- Spilled liquids
- Other objects.
Another example is a dangerously slippery condition caused by recent waxing or oiling of the floor.
For property owners or occupiers to be liable for a slip and fall caused by a foreign substance or finish, the evidence must show that the owner had superior knowledge of the existence of the condition which caused the fall and the danger presented by that condition.
Owners and occupiers may also be liable if the evidence shows that they lacked knowledge of the hazard because they failed to exercise reasonable care in inspecting or maintaining the premises.
Assessment of these issues requires a thorough review of the circumstances and facts in each particular case by an experienced attorney.
What Does ‘Ordinary Care for Your Own Safety’ Mean in Slip and Fall Cases?
The fact that a hazardous condition exists on a premises does not mean that anyone who is injured when they encounter that hazard can automatically recover from the owner or occupier.
Under Georgia law, individuals must generally exercise ordinary care for their own safety, employing all of their senses to discover and avoid conditions that may pose a risk of injury.
When an invitee knows of a hazard but takes no steps to avoid it, he or she is voluntarily exposing himself or herself to the risk of injury posed by the hazard. Under these circumstances, the injured party will be deemed to have assumed the risk of injury, and cannot hold the owner or occupier liable for any resulting injuries.
There are limited exceptions to this duty that arise in the following scenarios:
- Situations causing stress or excitement
- Situations where the invitee’s attention has been diverted – either of necessity or by the owner or occupier.
How Does Causation Play a Role in a Slip and Fall Injury?
As in any injury claim based on negligence, injured parties in slip and fall cases can recover for injuries only upon proof that those injuries were caused by the negligence of the owner or occupier.
In some situations, an owner or occupier may argue that a plaintiff suffered from a condition before a slip and fall occurred. For instance, the owner may contend that the plaintiff already had a slipped or bulging disc, and the slip and fall did not cause this injury.
It is important to note that a valid claim may be made when a slip and fall causes a pre-existing condition to be aggravated or made worse.
A lawyer with experience in handling personal injury claims can review one’s medical records and consult with experts to determine the extent of harm caused by the slip and fall.
Why Is It Important to Conduct a Prompt Investigation of a Slip and Fall?
Because many slip and fall accidents result from conditions that are only temporary in nature like wet floors, uneven surfaces, debris or obstructions in a pathway or on the walkway surface, it is very important to take steps to document the hazardous condition as quickly as possible.
In the past, this process was a difficult race against time. However, today, because most people carry smartphones, this crucial initial documentation of the hazard can be completed by snapping a few photos of the hazard. It is important to make sure that any photographs that are taken are well-lit and in-focus so that they clearly depict the hazard. If at all possible, try to capture the hazard from several different angles.
In some cases, surveillance cameras or other devices may in use at the location. Because many surveillance video systems use rolling storage systems that only retain footage for a set amount of time, it is important to contact the manager of the property in writing to notify them of the need to preserve any footage which might show what happened before that footage is overwritten.
Where self-documentation is not possible, or if it was not done at the time of the fall, it is crucial to get an attorney involved as quickly as possible. An experienced lawyer will know the important facts to document and will know the tools at the plaintiff’s disposal to ensure that the scene is preserved appropriately for that documentation.
What Damages Can You Recover in a Slip and Fall Claim?
A slip and fall can result in catastrophic, or life-changing, injuries. These slip and fall injuries may require extensive medical care and ongoing treatment. They may also prevent the injured party from being able to work or to return to the same type of job that he or she held before the injury.
Common slip and fall injuries are:
- Broken bones, including hip fractures
- Head and brain injuries
- Back and spine injuries
- Knee injuries
- Joint damage
- Nerve damage
A claim for damages in a slip and fall injury claim typically would seek a recovery of all past, present and future medical expenses as well as:
- Lost wages and earnings
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental anguish.
In some rare cases, punitive damages may be pursued as well where the conduct of the property owner or occupier so willful and wanton that it merits punishment and deterrence.
An attorney’s role is to gather and assess your medical records and to consult with experts in areas such as life-care planning in order to arrive at a calculation of the damages amount which should be sought in your slip and fall case.
Can You Bring a Claim for a Slip and Fall at Work?
If you suffer an injury from a slip and fall at work in Georgia, you typically cannot bring a personal injury claim against your employer. Instead, your exclusive remedy is to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation will cover your medical expenses arising from your slip and fall injury and replace a portion of the wages which you may lose due to a temporary or permanent disability. In a workers’ compensation claim, you cannot receive compensation for your pain and suffering.
However, if the negligence of a third party other than your employer caused you to suffer a slip and fall injury, you may also have the right to seek damages through a personal injury claim.
An example would be a sales person who suffers a fall while on a customer’s premises to the customer’s negligence.
If successful, a third-party liability claim can allow you to recover all of your necessary and related medical expenses as well as all of your lost income, diminished future earning capacity and pain and suffering damages. However, where a workers’ compensation claim has also been asserted, and the employer’s insurer has provided benefits to an injured employee, Georgia law provides that the insurer has a right to seek reimbursement of any benefits paid to or on behalf of the injured employee so long as the employee has been fully compensated for all economic and non-economic aspects of his or her injury.
Let an Atlanta Slip and Fall Lawyer Help You to Evaluate Your Case
Individuals who are injured as a result of the negligence of property owners may be entitled to compensation under Georgia law. However, it is often overwhelming trying to recover from painful injuries caused by the negligence of someone else while trying to determine what kind of compensation is reasonable.
The job of our Atlanta slip and fall lawyers is to protect the rights of our clients – whether in confidential settlement negotiations with insurance companies or in the courtroom. We have a successful track record against property owners for slip and fall injuries.
Our team of trained professionals is known in Atlanta and throughout Georgia for its legal skill, experience and passion for achieving successful outcomes for clients.
Our clients are also an important part of our legal team. No one understands your injury better than you. That is why we always listen carefully to what our clients have to say.
Contact Us Today for Help with Your Atlanta Slip and Fall Case
At James M. Poe, P.C., our trial attorneys offer trusted, proven representation for people who have been seriously hurt because of a property owner’s carelessness.
Our clients receive dedicated and individual attention from Jim Poe and Matt Poe — experienced and passionate Atlanta trial lawyers who are driven to get results for slip and fall victims and their families.
For a free initial consultation about your case, just call us or use our convenient online contact form.