Who is responsible if you are injured due to unsafe premises? For example, what happens if you slip and fall on an uneven, poorly lit staircase?
Property owners are responsible for certain injuries sustained by people on their property. Premises liability cases occur when a property owner does not maintain their property in a safe condition.
A premises liability settlement or verdict can help a person recover the money necessary for medical bills, lost income, and other expenses. Whether a settlement or verdict, The McAleer Law Firm will always seek the maximum recovery available under the law.
When to File a Premises Liability Action in Georgia
Every day, people are severely injured in buildings, parking lots, and on other premises. Sometimes, those injuries are the result of bad upkeep of those premises by their owners or managers. In those situations, the injured party or the family of a wrongful death victim can file a premises liability action against the property owner.
Premises liability claims often involve slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall claims. While slips and falls are the most common, there are many other types of unsafe premises claims. For example, premises liability lawsuits may also involve:
- Dog bites and other animal attacks
- Amusement park accidents
- Escalator or elevator injuries
- Building or construction accidents
- Inadequate or negligent security
- Criminal attacks
- Injuries from fire such as burns or smoke inhalation
- Inadequate or non-existent fire alarms in rental properties
- Accidents leading to wrongful death
- Swimming pool drowning or fall accidents
- Exposure to hazardous materials
- Many other types of injuries caused by negligence of a property owner
In many states, if you are selling or leasing residential real estate, you must disclose the existence of known hazardous substances on the property. Federal law requires the disclosure of lead hazards, such as lead plumbing or lead-based paint. State or local laws may require disclosure of other substances, such as asbestos.Duties Owed By Owners And Occupiers of Land
In many states, owners and occupiers of land owe different degrees of care, also called duties, to visitors to their property, and this will depend on the visitor’s reason for being on the property.
In general, there are three categories for visitors who on someone else’s property: trespassers, licensees, or invitees. In states that still distinguish among these categories of people, such as Georgia, the legal duty owed to each type of visitor is different.
One of the first jobs McAleer Law has in unsafe premises cases is categorizing our client’s use of the property to determine the duty owed. In most cases, our clients are called business invitees, and as such they are owed a duty or ordinary care.Georgia’s Legal Standard in Premises Liability Cases
The owner/occupier of property or land owes persons invited to enter the premises a duty of ordinary care to have the premises in a safe condition and not to expose the invitees to unreasonable risk of harm. Madaris v. Piggly Wiggly Southern, 205 Ga.App. 405 (1992); Young v. Wal-Mart Stores, 209 Ga.App. 199 (1993). O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 states: “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.”
To recover for injuries sustained in a trip-and-fall accident, an invitee must prove (1) that the defendant had actual or “constructive knowledge” of the hazard; and (2) that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard despite their exercise of ordinary care due to the actions or conditions within the control of the owner/occupier. Robinson v. Kroger Co., 268 Ga. 735, 748-49, 493 S.E.2d 403, 414 (1997). Further, Georgia law holds that owners also have vicarious liability for any negligent act or omission of its independent contractor/security guard, separate from their own liability under O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. FPI Atlanta, L.P. v. Seaton, 240 Ga. App. 880 (1999).
Proving Liability in Unsafe Premises Cases in Georgia
“Constructive knowledge” means that an owner should have known of the hazard. You can prove such knowledge in many ways. You could present evidence that an employee was in the immediate area of the hazard prior to the injury, and had that employee been acting reasonably in inspecting his surroundings, he would have discovered the dangerous hazard.
McAleer Law has successfully proven constructive knowledge in cases where there is a liquid substance on the ground and when video evidence shows that several employees walked near the spill but did nothing to wipe it up.
Another way to prove constructive knowledge is by establishing that a premises owner had not established reasonable inspection procedures. A property owner’s negligence can also be proven by showing that established procedures were not followed. McAleer Law has proved constructive knowledge by gathering inspection reports that show that inspections were scheduled to take place but did not actually take place.
The idea is this: if the premises owner had inspected as his own procedures required, he could have identified and removed the hazardous condition.Typical Defenses to Claims Involving Injuries on Property
One of the most common defenses that we see at McAleer Law is when a premises owner claims that the injured person failed to avoid the defendant’s negligence. In other words, the plaintiff knew of the hazard and failed to avoid it. Georgia law states that a person has to exercise ordinary care for her own safety. When a plaintiff does not exercise such ordinary care, this is called comparative negligence. If such a defense is successful, an injured party cannot recover for his injuries.
Defendants will also argue that even though a plaintiff may not have been aware of a defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff was nevertheless negligent in bringing about his own injuries. If the defendant can show that the plaintiff’s negligence was equal to or greater than the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff cannot recover AT ALL. If the defendant can show the plaintiff was less than 50% negligent, the plaintiff’s award is reduced by that percentage by the court.
In addition to pointing the finger of blame at an injured person, defendants also often point the finger at parties not involved in the case at all. For example, if a shopper slips and falls in water that may be leaking from a drink refrigerator, the premises owner may argue that the provider of the refrigerator is the responsible party.
As you can see, unsafe premises cases can be complicated and difficult to prove. To get the best result for your case, call us at 404-622-5337 today to schedule a free consultation.