Was an Atlanta Hotel Liable for a Guest’s Injury on a Wet Floor?

Posted in slip and fall on August 26, 2021

Plaintiff suffers injuries in lobby of the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta Hotel

A recent premises liability case arose out of a fall that happened in the lobby of the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta Hotel.

Facts of the Case

Dhruvkumar K. Pandya attended a wedding reception at the hotel with his family. Because it was raining “pretty heavily” that evening, he was dropped off with his family under the covered front entrance of the hotel. According to his daughter, the ground was slippery from the rain when they got out of the car. When he got out, Mr. Pandya sat on the seat of his rollator walker, which he usually did when the distance was great or the weather was poor.

The approach to the lobby entrance is covered by a 50-60-foot-long porte-cochere, which is a porch where vehicles stop to discharge passengers. Mr. Pandya was sitting on the walker facing his daughter as she rolled him backwards under the porte cochere towards the hotel door. At the threshold of the hotel lobby, as he went through the swinging doors of the handicap-accessible entrance, his walker slipped and tipped over. Mr. Pandya fell back out of it. He struck the back of his head and his upper back on the lobby floor.

Arati Pandya, Mr. Pandya’s daughter, testified that no hotel employee was present when the fall occurred. The front desk clerk that night didn’t see the incident but investigated the crowd that had gathered. Cruz asked whether Mr. Pandya needed medical attention but was told by Arati that she was a doctor and not to worry.

After her father’s fall, his daughter noticed unusual amounts of water on the hotel lobby floor just past the threshold. Mr. Pandya’s son testified that the floors of the doorway and lobby were slippery.

Cruz said that he didn’t see any water accumulated on the floor in the area near the front door. He also testified that hotel staff routinely cleaned up water any time they notice it, paid attention to the presence of water on floors when it was raining, and used towels to dry any spills or water.

When he returned from parking the car, Mr. Pandya’s son (also a doctor) examined his father’s medical condition and decided not to take him to the ER. Instead, the family helped Mr. Pandya into a wheelchair, and they continued to the wedding reception.

A later MRI showed an acute fracture of Mr. Pandya’s T-4 vertebra. He died a few weeks later.

The Pandyas’ Lawsuit

Mr. Pandya’s family filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court alleging negligence, wrongful death, and loss of consortium. The complaint contends that Marriott was negligent in failing to keep the hotel entrance dry or otherwise keep the premises reasonably safe.

The trial court granted Marriott’s motion for partial summary judgment on the wrongful death claim and its corresponding claim for damages. Marriott then asked the court to dismiss the remaining claims.

Marriott Moves to Dismiss the Case

Senior Chief United States District Judge Timothy C. Batten wrote in his opinion that under Georgia law, “[w]here 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.”

The judge explained that an invitee who’s injured on an owner’s premises may recover under a theory of premises liability if he can show that his injury was caused by the owner’s breach of that duty, i.e., if the owner’s negligence in failing to maintain a safe premises is shown to have caused the injury. But proof of a fall or injury—without more—doesn’t give rise to premises liability, Judge Batten said. Rather, to recover on a premises liability claim, a plaintiff must show:

  • that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and
  • that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard despite the exercise of ordinary care due to actions or conditions within the control of the owner/occupier.

Judge Batten noted that the Georgia Court of Appeals said that the true basis of a proprietor’s liability for personal injury to an invitee is “the proprietor’s superior knowledge of a condition that may expose the invitees to an unreasonable risk of harm.”

Marriott argued that it is entitled to summary judgment because the Pandyas failed to present sufficient evidence that (1) the hotel had superior knowledge of any hazards; or (2) that Marriott’s alleged breach caused Mr. Pandya’s injuries. Marriott also contended that Mr. Pandya didn’t exercise ordinary care for his own safety.

Did Marriott Have Superior Knowledge?

Judge Batten explained that under Georgia law, a plaintiff may demonstrate a proprietor’s constructive knowledge of a hazard by showing “evidence that the hazardous condition lasted so long that it would have been discovered and removed if the proprietor had exercised reasonable care in inspecting the premises.” Moreover, Georgia courts have made it clear that rainwater is not considered a hazard or dangerous condition absent any unreasonable accumulation.

However, a plaintiff may also demonstrate a proprietor’s constructive knowledge by providing evidence that an employee of the defendant was in the immediate vicinity of the hazardous condition and could have easily seen and corrected the hazard. But the Pandyas didn’t argue for constructive knowledge on this basis.

Judge Patten said that hotels aren’t liable to patrons who slip and fall on floors made wet by rain conditions unless there’s been an unusual accumulation of water and the hotel failed to follow reasonable inspection and cleaning procedures.

Here, the Pandyas failed to demonstrate a disputed issue of fact as to whether there was an unusual accumulation of water, the judge said. Moreover, the judge said that the fundamental basis for an owner or occupier’s liability is that party’s superior knowledge of the hazard encountered by the plaintiff. Plaintiffs in ‘rainy day’ slip and fall cases are charged with equal knowledge that water is apt to be found in any area frequented by people coming in from the rain outside. In this case, there was nothing to suggest that Mr. Pandya didn’t have the same capacity as his children to observe the heavy rain and wet conditions. So, he was charged with equal knowledge that water was likely to be present at the lobby entrance as people moved in and out of the hotel.

Plaintiffs failed to show a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Marriott had knowledge of any hazard other than the rainwater of which Mr. Pandya had equal knowledge. Thus, Marriott was entitled to summary judgment as to the Pandyas’ slip-and-fall theory of recovery.

Causation

Marriott also argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because the Pandyas failed to provide sufficient evidence that its failure to keep its premises safe caused Mr. Pandya’s injuries.

To establish causation, the plaintiff must introduce evidence that reasonably supports the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct caused the result, and speculation as to what may have caused a fall isn’t sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact to withstand summary judgment. Instead, a plaintiff must produce evidence of the foreign substance, condition, or hazard that caused the slip and fall injury. Here, the Pandyas only speculated as to causation. Based on the lack of evidence to establish causation, Judge Batten held that Marriott was entitled to summary judgment.

Mr. Pandya’s Ordinary Care

Quoting earlier Georgia cases, Judge Batten said that while a plaintiff “need not be continuously scanning or checking the floor to make sure there are no hazards present,” courts may grant summary judgment where the evidence “plainly, palpably, and indisputably leads to the conclusion that the invitee’s placement of [his] foot on a site [he] had not previously inspected visually is an act which is a ‘want of such prudence as the ordinarily careful person would use in a like situation.”

The judge said that at the time of his fall, Mr. Pandya was using his rollator walker for seated transportation despite two different warnings on the walker cautioning against such use. Moreover, he was traveling backwards without looking—on uneven ground on a rainy evening—and was at least partially obstructing the view of his daughter as she pushed him. Thus, the judge found it was indisputable that Mr. Pandya failed to exercise the prudence of an ordinarily careful person. As such, Marriott was entitled to summary judgment on the Pandyas’ premises liability claim on this alternative basis.

Marriott’s motion for summary judgment was granted. Pandya v. Marriott Hotel Servs.,  2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148379 *; __ F.Supp.3d __; 2021 WL 3464263 (N.D. Ga. August 5, 2021).

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