What Evidence is Required to Prove a Slip and Fall Action?

Posted in Georgia Court of Appeals,slip and fall on April 14, 2022

What follows below is an analysis of a slip and fall. Procedurally, the skating club filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by granting that motion. Below is the analysis.

Background

On the date of her fall, the plaintiff was at a skating club in Smyrna Georgia with her family including her daughter, son-in-law, and her grandchildren. The plaintiff had previously been to that skating rink at least seven times and had been skating since she was two or three years old.

The plaintiff said in her deposition that she was coasting around the skating rink and when she came around a corner her “right foot slip[ped] in front … [and] I was trying to catch my balance as you do, I was not able to catch my balance. I was falling, so I fell to my right and I put my hand out … trying to brace my fall, and [as] I was falling [my] ankle twisted and that’s how I broke … my ankle.”

The plaintiff also said in her deposition that her fall was caused by “[s]omething wet on the floor” and that she did not notice the floor’s condition until she fell. She explained that at the time of her fall, it was hot inside the skating rink and the skating rink doors were left open. The plaintiff said that she thought the wetness was caused by either wet air blowing in from outside or “condensation from how hot it was [inside the rink] because you could see the fog from the heat.”

The plaintiff’s son-in-law stated that it was a humid and moist night, the air conditioning system was not on at the skating rink, and the skating club left the front entrance door open the entire time they were there. After the plaintiff’s fall, he approached her on the rink floor and noticed that the floor where she fell was wet and that there was moisture under her. The bottom of her clothing appeared to have moisture on it as well.

Another skater, unknown to the plaintiff, stated that for about six years prior to the incident, he skated at the rink at least a couple of times a week with his minor daughter. The skater deposed that he was an “extremely confident skater.”

On the date of the incident, it was raining outside and this skater said that it was “extremely hot” inside the rink and that it didn’t appear that the air conditioning was on. As a result, he said ”it felt very humid.“ When the skater began to skate he observed that ”it was extremely slick“ and the floor had ”moisture on it.“ He skated around the rink one time and then he went to the front and told an employee that it was slick out on the rink and that they should turn the air conditioning down to rectify the slick skating conditions. However, the skater didn’t see any employee take any actions in response to his complaint.

After talking to a skating club employee, the skater testified that the skating conditions didn’t improve, and “it was a bumpy ride.” He stated that “[i]t was still hectic, and there [were] a lot of people there, and people were sliding and slipping.”

He saw more than the normal amount of people falling down. Because of this, he also told his daughter to be careful and “to control her speed” because the floor was “too slick.”

The skater opined that to remedy the condition of the rink floor the evening of the incident, the air conditioning needed to be turned down and an employee should have used a dry mop to soak up the moisture on the floor. After noticing the plaintiff had fallen, the skater remembered saying again that the air conditioner needed to be turned down because of the slick conditions.

The Standard for Summary Judgment

Chief Judge Brian M. Rickman of the Georgia Court of Appeals wrote in his opinion that on a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the evidence is construed in the respondent’s favor. This means that the non-moving party is given the benefit of all doubts and all reasonable inferences.

Also, on appeal of the grant of summary judgment, the Court of Appeals applies a de novo review of the evidence to determine whether any question of material fact exists. De novo review is when an appellate court decides an issue without deference to the trial court’s decision. As a result, the Court of Appeals decides all issues in a case, as if the case was being heard for the first time.

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can show that there’s no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The defendant satisfies this burden by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions, and other evidence in the record demonstrate that there’s no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of a plaintiff’s case. If this is accomplished, all the other disputes of fact are rendered immaterial.

Identifying the Hazard

To prove negligence in a slip and fall premises liability case, the plaintiff must show:

  • the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the foreign substance; and
  • the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the substance or for some reason attributable to the defendant was prevented from discovering it.

Moreover, a plaintiff who claims that she slipped on a foreign substance must present some evidence of a foreign substance on the ground where she slipped.

In this case, the plaintiff testified that she slipped on something wet on the floor and remarked that the wetness was caused by the skating rink’s door being left open or due to the humidity inside the rink. She also presented an affidavit from her son-in-law and deposition testimony from an unrelated skater witness, both of whom explained that it was a humid and moist night and that the air conditioning was not on inside the skating rink.

The skater witness also said in his deposition that the rink was slick due to the conditions inside the rink and warned a skating club employees and his minor daughter about the slick skating floor. Construing all of this testimony in the plaintiff’s favor, Chief Judge Rickman held that it was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding the presence of wetness on the skating rink floor where she fell and the trial court erred by finding that the plaintiff did not meet her burden to show what foreign substance caused her to slip.

Equal Knowledge of the Hazard

The Georgia Court of Appeals stated in 2000 that “[a]n owner or occupier of land is liable to invitees for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping his premises and approaches safe.” Further, this duty of ordinary care requires the owner “to protect the invitee from unreasonable risks of harm of which the owner has superior knowledge and to inspect the premises to discover possible dangerous conditions of which the owner does not have actual knowledge.”

In the trial court’s order, the trial court stated that “[the skating club] state[s] that the rink floor was not slick due to humidity or condensation in the rink and if [it] had been made aware, [it] would have done another safety sweep to the floor.”

However, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial court’s order ignored the skater witness’ testimony that he expressly warned a club employee about the slick conditions and requested that they turn down the air conditioning. This evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the skating club had actual knowledge of the hazard, Chief Judge Rickman held.

Additionally, Chief Judge Rickman explained that the fact that the plaintiff was aware that it was foggy inside the skating rink didn’t mean that she had specific knowledge of the hazardous wet conditions of the skating rink floor. The judge wrote:

it is a plaintiff’s knowledge of the specific hazard which precipitates the slip and fall which is determinative, not merely his knowledge of the generally prevailing hazardous conditions or of the hazardous conditions which he observes and avoids. The true issue in a slip and fall case such as the instant one is whether the plaintiff was without knowledge of the foreign substance which precipitated [her] slip and fall.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that, giving the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences, the trial court erred by holding that she had equal knowledge of the hazard. The judgment was reversed. Luckett v. Sparkles of Gwinnett, Inc., 2022 Ga. App. LEXIS 175 (Ga. App. March 28, 2022).

Legal Questions You May Have

If you have questions about a fall, or just like skating, call us. We offer FREE consultations to all prospective clients. 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.