Slip and Fall in a Georgia Store

The Georgia Supreme Court has explained that in a premises liability case, a plaintiff has to show his or her injury was cause by a hazard on an owner or occupier’s land that the owner should have removed in the exercise of ordinary care to protect the invited public’s safety. In a trip and fall or slip and fall case, a plaintiff must show (1) the defendant actually knew or should have known of a danger and (2) the plaintiff exercised ordinary care but still didn’t know of the hazard because of the defendant’s actions.
In a recent case a Georgia couple filed a personal injury and loss of consortium suit against a store and the company that owned it. The case arose one evening when the couple and their young daughter entered the store at the produce area and shopped for 35-40 minutes. The husband and daughter went to the checkout area, but the wife went back to the produce section for a bag of lettuce.
She picked up a bag and went towards the checkout area to join her family. However, she slipped and fell on clear liquid, probably water, in the flower section.
She later testified that she was watching where she was walking, but didn’t see anything on the floor before falling, only seeing the puddle after her fall. However, there was no evidence the store and its owner had actual knowledge of the liquid on the floor. Therefore, to recover under Georgia slip and fall law, the plaintiff had to show that the store had “constructive knowledge” of the puddle.
The husband and wife sued. At trial, the defendants requested a directed verdict — a directed verdict would have removed the case from being determined by the jury. The motion for directed verdict was denied. The jury found for the couple and awarded the plaintiff more than $2.5 million in damages on her personal injury claim and awarded her husband $150,000 for loss of consortium. The store appealed on the grounds that it was entitled to directed verdict because the plaintiffs hadn’t shown actual or constructive knowledge.
In Georgia, “constructive knowledge” can be shown where an employee was in the immediate vicinity of the fall before it happened and had a chance to correct the condition. It can also be shown if the hazardous condition was there for so long, it would have been found if the storeowner had exercised reasonable care in maintaining and observing the premises.
The Georgia Court of Appeals explained that the amount of time a substance must be on the floor for an owner to discover it must be examined on a case-by-case basis. A plaintiff can prove this element with evidence from which a reasonable inference that there was no reasonable inspection procedure or it wasn’t followed.
In this case, the owner could not show it inspected the area in question on the day the plaintiff fell. However, the safety policy presented at trial did require employees to inspect the store on an hourly basis.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the plaintiffs hadn’t presented evidence showing how long water had been on the floor or that a reasonable inspection would have discovered it.
The appellate court explained that where evidence raises the inference that a reasonable inspection would have uncovered a foreign substance on the floor, it is up to the jury to determine the issue of constructive knowledge. In this case, there was evidence from which the jury could make an inference of constructive knowledge. Specifically, a former store employee had testified that she had seen water on the floor by the flowers before. It was anticipated water would drip onto the floor when shoppers removed flowers from vases. For that reason, non-skid floor mats were often used in that area. The mats weren’t used on the day of the fall.
The fall had happened on the busiest time of the week at the end of the day. The store had not been able to show any employee inspected or cleaned the area that day. Accordingly, the appellate court found there was enough evidence from which a jury could infer the spill had been present for enough time that it should have been discovered by employees had they adhered to reasonable inspection procedures.  Therefore it was proper for the lower court to deny the directed verdict requested by the defendants.
If you are hurt on somebody else’s property, you may be wondering if you can file 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.