You’ve invited a licensed professional in to your home to fix something with the house. What duty does that professional owe you to prevent injury while in your home?
In a 2021 homeowner’s personal injury action against an electrician, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a trial court that held the electrician didn’t owe a duty of care to the homeowner because the employee had a duty to move in a reasonable manner to avoid colliding with others in the home.
A homeowner in Duluth, Georgia asked an electrician to help with a project in her home. On the morning of the accident, the electrician met the homeowner at the home to inspect the heater and the water heater in the unfinished basement. There was no lighting on the staircase down to the basement, but large windows in the basement provided some light.
As they approached the staircase to the basement, the electrician, who was wearing buckled clog shoes with 2½-inch heels, noticed that the staircase had a preconstruction step and a split platform. The homeowner told her to be careful and that there wasn’t a handrail on the staircase. The electrician wasn’t concerned that the staircase didn’t have a handrail because she frequently walked through new construction homes, and she used her left hand to “sweep” the wall.
The electrician testified that the homeowner walked in front of her, while another employee of the electrician’s walked behind her as they went down the stairs. As the electrician approached the split platform, she suddenly fell forward and “bowled” over the homeowner, causing the two of them to fall to the basement floor.
The homeowner was injured and went to the hospital.
The electrician testified that she was unaware of what caused her to fall at the time of the accident, but she later told the homeowner that she fell because she lost her balance. The electrician also filled out an accident report for her employer after the accident and said that her fall was caused by “inattention to footing,” and the “construction or design” of the premises. The electrician later photographed the staircase and determined that she lost her balance on the staircase because the heel of her shoe went through a gap in the staircase.
The County examined the staircase after the accident, and it passed its inspection.
The Homeowner Sues
The homeowner filed a lawsuit against the electrician and her employer, alleging negligence against the electrician and imputed liability and negligent hiring, training, and supervision against her employer. She sought damages against both defendants.
The electrician and her employer filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted their motion, finding that the homeowner failed to show that the electrician and her employer either owed her a duty or that they breached that duty. The homeowner appealed.
The Court of Appeals Reverses
The homeowner argued that the trial court erred in its determination that the electrician didn’t have a legal duty to exercise ordinary care while walking down the staircase. In law school in a class called “Torts”, every first year law student learns the four elements of proving negligence. Presiding Judge M. Yvette Miller wrote in her opinion that to state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must establish the following essential elements:
- a legal duty;
- a breach of this duty;
- an injury; and
- a causal connection between the breach and the injury.
Judge Miller explained that the threshold issue in a negligence action is whether and to what extent the defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. A legal duty sufficient to support liability in negligence is either a duty imposed by statute or a duty imposed by a recognized common law principle. In the absence of a legally cognizable duty, there can be no fault or negligence.
In addition, in determining whether the electrician owed a duty of care to the homeowner, the Court of Appeals noted that this case didn’t involve questions and issues pertaining to premises liability. Here, the homeowner simply alleged that her injuries were caused by the electrician falling on top of her. The homeowner argued that the electrician had a duty to exercise reasonable care to move and walk in a prudent manner so as to avoid colliding with others.
In an earlier decision in which the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants, it recognized a common law principle that the defendant had a “duty to move and walk in a reasonably prudent manner so as to avoid colliding with and injuring fellow pedestrians in the hotel.” Judge Miller found that case applicable here case and determined that the electrician did have a duty to move and walk in a reasonably prudent manner to avoid colliding with others in the home. The trial court’s judgment was reversed. Cabrera v. Ellis, 358 Ga. App. 396, 855 S.E.2d 405 (Ga. App. February 12, 2021).
Do You have Questions About Accidents in the Home?
If you have questions about injuries sustained in an accident on your property or want to ask us any questions about your situation, you are welcome to reach out to our experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer Atlanta residents trust. We offer free confidential consultations. You can contact an Atlanta personal injury attorney at Tobin Injury Law 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 404-JUSTICE (404-587-8423) or using our online contact form.