You’re walking along in a store when you slip and fall. Who is responsible? You for not ‘paying attention’? The store for not cleaning it up? The person who caused the spill?
On December 11, 2019, the plaintiff was shopping at a grocery store. At 12:54pm, a bag of ice carried by an employee broke and spilled onto the floor. A minute later, the plaintiff slipped on the spilled ice and fell. As a result of the fall, she suffered headaches and sustained injuries to her left knee and her lower back.
After the fall, the plaintiff sought medical care at a local hospital. She reported headaches and left knee pain. She was given Tylenol and diagnosed with a knee sprain. The evidence of these injuries suggested that the x-ray of the plaintiff’s knee was unremarkable, and her pain was mild. There was no evidence indicating that she complained of pain in her neck or lower back as a result of the slip-and-fall during this ER visit.
Both before and after the slip-and-fall, the plaintiff sustained injuries from motor vehicle collisions. After one of the collisions, she sought treatment for dizziness, headache, and neck and lower back pain. She subsequently sought treatment orthopedic treatment that continued until weeks after the slip-and-fall at issue here.
After the slip-and-fall and the first car accident, but before the complaint in this case was filed, the plaintiff was involved in another motor vehicle collision. She sought treatment from a chiropractor and reported lower back pain due to the car accident. The chiropractor recorded other areas of concern, including the plaintiff’s left knee and shoulder, C/T junction, and tension headaches. Also, after seeing a specialist, the plaintiff had disc fusion surgery.
The plaintiff filed her lawsuit alleging one count of premises liability, one count of vicarious liability, and one count of negligent training and supervision against the store.
The Georgia Slip-and-Fall Negligence Standard
Judge Steven D. Grimberg, a United States District Judge wrote in his opinion that to sustain a negligence claim based on premises liability based on a landowner’s negligence under Georgia law, a plaintiff must prove the standard elements of a negligence claim—duty, breach, causation, and damages—as well as the added element of superior knowledge (i.e., the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the slip-and-fall, and the plaintiff lacked such knowledge “despite the exercise of ordinary care due to conditions within the defendant’s control.”
The judge went on to explain that an owner or occupier of land isn’t an insurer of the safety of its invitees, and the “mere occurrence of an injury” doesn’t create a presumption of negligence.
In other words, “a plaintiff must show that [she] was injured by a hazard that the owner should have removed in the exercise of ordinary care for the safety of the invited public.” Even an owner’s or occupier’s superior knowledge vis-à-vis the injured plaintiff isn’t necessarily enough to prevail absent some reason to be on notice of the likelihood of a given hazard arising.
The Issue of Superior Knowledge and Reasonable Time to Remedy the Hazard
The store owner argued that it and the plaintiff effectively had equal knowledge of the ice spill because she saw the ice “seconds prior to her fall.” The plaintiff disputed this fact and said she merely looked in the direction of the spill but didn’t see it. It was undisputed, however, that the store owner had actual knowledge of the ice spill and that it possessed such knowledge before the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that this amounted to the store owner’s superior knowledge of the ice spill, or at least created a dispute of material fact as to the superior knowledge element of her premises liability claim such that summary judgment for the store owner was precluded.
Judge Grimberg opined that if summary judgment came down to whether the plaintiff indeed saw the ice before she fell, then that issue would be properly put to a jury. However, even where it appeared that the defendant had superior knowledge, Georgia law recognizes that “absent some reason to be on notice of the likelihood of a given hazard arising, a proprietor is generally permitted a reasonable time after notice of a hazardous condition to exercise care in correcting such condition.”
The plaintiff slipped approximately a minute after the spill. Although the store owner knew about the hazard immediately, under Georgia law, it didn’t have a reasonable amount of time to remedy the hazard before the plaintiff fell. On this basis alone, the store owner’s summary judgment motion was granted, the Court of Appeals held. Williams v. Kroger Co., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57660, 2023 WL 2763138 (N.D. Ga. March 31, 2023).
Questions about your case?
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