Proving Causation in Georgia Premises Liability Cases

In a recent premises liability case, a Georgia plaintiff alleged negligence without pointing to a specific hazard. The case arose when the plaintiff parked in the parking lot, entered the bank and when leaving fell on the sidewalk in front of the bank. She was hurt.
When she first arrived at the bank, she had seen a metal edging around the flowerbeds. However, she didn’t know how she had fallen when she left. She suddenly found herself lying on the ground.

The plaintiff was asked if her foot had caught on something, but she answered she wasn’t sure and all she could remember was falling. She attributed her fall to the fencing because she looked down when she was being brought into the bank and the fence was protruding or had been moved. However, she also admitted the fencing might have moved as a result of her fall (as opposed to causing her fall).
The trial court denied the bank’s motion for summary judgment. The bank appealed, arguing that the plaintiff had not proved there was a hazardous condition on its property. In Georgia, a landowner must keep its premises reasonably safe, but is not required to insure its invitees’ safety. The first issue in a slip and fall case is whether there is a hazardous condition.

The appellate court explained it was not enough for a Georgia plaintiff to prove she fell. People regularly fall on sidewalks and floors that are smooth and safe. In this case, the plaintiff was unable to prove an essential element of negligence: causation.

The plaintiff had argued a jury could infer that the landscape border or edging had protruded onto the sidewalk and caused her to fall. She cited to a 1999 case in which a plaintiff slipped and fell on a slippery substance in a grocery store. She and the store saw that there were grape skins on the floor when she got up.

The store had an ongoing problem with people discarding their food half-eaten on the floor. Because the plaintiff in that case could show a foreign substance on the floor, the court had allowed that case to proceed. Reasonable jurors could infer based on the proximity of the skins to the place where the plaintiff fell that she had slipped on them.

The appellate court explained that the only real commonality between the cases was that both plaintiffs were unsure about what caused their falls. However, in the prior case here was evidence beyond speculation that something dangerous on the premises actually caused the fall. Here, there was only speculation and assumption.
The plaintiff in this case was not even able to testify she struck her foot against something. She simply assumed she tripped on the fence border, but even that assumption was tentative because she knew it was possible her fall pushed the border.
The court likened this to another case in which the plaintiff assumed he had fallen on a raised piece of carpet because he had observed it was wrinkly, even though he did not know for sure that he fell on it. Since the plaintiff could not prove causation, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.
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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Proximate Cause in Georgia Car Accidents, February 13, 2014
Tandem Driving Theory of Liability in Georgia Car Accidents, February 4, 2014