Foreseeability of Danger in Florida

In a 2013 case, a plaintiff was shopping at a hobby store that was organized so that they looked like they were in a home. She picked up something she thought was a glass vase slightly above her eye level. She picked it up to look at the price, but the top portion dropped off and cut her wrist, causing nerve damage. The “vase” was actually a multi-part glass candle holder with a loose lamp portion shaped like a globe. She testified later that if she had known it was two pieces, she would have known not to lift it.

The plaintiff and her husband sued the shop for premises liability alleging the store’s negligence in failing to keep the store in a safe condition was the reason for her injuries. She alleged the store had actual knowledge the candle-holder was two pieces, but on the shelf looked like one piece.

The store moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court explained that in Georgia a property owner can be held liable to an invited guest for injuries caused by the owner’s failure to use ordinary car to keep the property safe. This includes the obligation to keep the premises safe including a duty to inspect the premises to find possible dangerous conditions that he did not know and to take reasonable precautions to protect them.
The court assumes that a property owner has superior knowledge of the danger. Recovery is permitted in Georgia when a property owner knows of the danger but the guest does not. Diligence is required, but an owner is not expected to guarantee the customer’s safety.

A plaintiff must show the premises are defective in a premises liability case as a threshold matter. The plaintiff knew she was handling a glass object and that she could be cut by glass. The plaintiff’s complaint was that the hobby store created a hazardous condition by placing the multiple piece glass item without a sign. The court explained that the simple fact of the plaintiff’s accident didn’t automatically mean the multi-piece glass object was a dangerous condition or instrumentality.

The hobby store was not obligated to protected consumers from an object that could present a danger to them. An owner doesn’t have a duty to foresee and warn against dangers not reasonably expected. The hobby store manager had testified that there had been no prior accidents in the store related to multi-piece glass objects. There was no way the hobby store could reasonably expect a customer to look at a candle holder as one-piece vase. There was no way the hobby store could reasonably expect the injury.

The appellate court explained there was no evidence that the hobby store had no knowledge of the danger and therefore there could be no recovery. The plaintiff also argued that the evidence of the broken glass candle holder had been subject to the defendant’s spoliation (destruction or failure to preserve). She had asked for sanctions. The hobby store explained it hadn’t expected litigation. The appellate court agreed with the hobby store, noting that an injury didn’t automatically mean that someone was contemplating litigation.

If you are seriously injured because of a property owner’s negligence, you may have grounds for a premises liability lawsuit. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.

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