Atlanta Premises Liability Lawyers

Premises liability cases run the gambit from slip and fall cases to defective construction cases to negligent security cases. Since these cases come in all shapes and sizes it can be difficult to wrap your head around the attendant complexities and what you are required to show to bring a successful claim. That is why it is important to hire a knowledgeable attorney if you have ever been injured on another’s property by no fault of your own. We have handled many significant premises liability cases so if you or a loved one has been injured on another’s property, contact the attorneys at Finch McCranie at (404) 658-9070 for a free consultation.

Premises Liability Claims: A General Overview

A possessor of property has a duty to keep its premises and approaches safe and this duty cannot be delegated. As a general rule, a “possessor” includes the owner of the property or the occupier, such as a tenant. The extent of the duty that is owed depends on the status of the person entering the property. Under the law, the duty changes based on whether the person is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. The highest duty of care is owed to an invitee, while the lowest duty of care is owed to a trespasser. Below is a quick breakdown of the categories of people entering property and the duties owed to each:

  • Invitee: Under Georgia law, an invitee is someone the landowner has expressly or impliedly induced to come onto the land. For example, a patron at a grocery store, is an invitee. The owner or occupier of the property must exercise ordinary care to keep the invitee safe.
  • Licensee: A licensee is someone who has expressed or implied permission to enter the premises for his own interests. A licensee is not a customer, servant, or trespasser and has no contractual relationship with the landowner. For example, a door-to-door salesman, is a licensee. The owner or occupier is only liable for willful or wanton injury.
  • Trespasser: A trespasser is someone who comes onto another’s property without permission, whether mistakenly or purposefully. The owner or occupier owes no duty to a trespasser, except he may not cause willful or wanton injury to the trespasser.
Why is It Important to Distinguish Between an Invitee From a Licensee?

As mentioned above, a higher standard of care is owed to an invitee versus a licensee. Therefore, it is important to establish an entrant’s status to determine what duty was owed to him or her. This can be confusing, however, as an entrant’s status can change depending on the nature of the relationship between the entrant and land possessor or where the entrance is located on the property. For example, a land possessor owes invitees a duty of ordinary care to keep the premises safe. However, once an invitee goes beyond the scope of the invitation, he becomes a licensee and is only owed a duty not to cause willful or wanton injury. That is why it is important to hire a knowledgeable attorney who can parse out these legal concepts to properly present your case.

Who may be Held Liable for Injuries Sustained on Another’s Property?

Multiple entities can be held liable for the injuries you sustained on another’s property and you should hire an experienced lawyer who is able to identify those responsible. A person or entity who has an interest in the property where the accident occurred or provides services there may be found liable if you are injured on their property. Those with an interest in the property include (1) the owner, (2) the landlord, (3) the tenant, or (4) any third parties who perform maintenance or inspection duties on property. This means that there are multiple parties that can be held liable for the same conduct.

Whether the at-fault party is an owner, occupier, or third party will determine the duty owed to the plaintiff. Thus, not only must you know the status of the injured party that entered the property, you must also know the status of the entity responsible for the hazard that caused the injury.

A possessor of property, which can include an owner, tenant, or occupier, has a statutory duty in Georgia to keep the premises in repair. An out-of-possession landlord’s liability is different. An out-of-possession landlord is essentially a landlord who has parted with possession of the property in that the out-of-possession landlord may own the property but does not occupy it and has delegated the day-to-day activities of managing and maintaining the property to someone else. Liability for an out-of-possession landlord is based on the failure to make repairs to the property after notice of defect. A third party or management company that has no ownership or possession of the property but provides services to the property such as maintenance and inspection has no statutory duty but does have the duty to exercise ordinary diligence like everyone else.

What Must You Prove to Recover in a Premises Liability Case?

A plaintiff must prove two things to recover for his injuries: (1) that the defendant—whether the owner, landlord, tenant, or third party overseeing the property—had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injury; and (2) that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard, despite exercising ordinary care for his own personal safety. Though these concepts may seem straight forward, as this page will demonstrate, it is much more complex to bring a premises liability claim and you will want an experienced lawyer by your side representing you to bring your claim to a successful resolution.

Why is a Land Possessor’s Superior Knowledge important?

For a plaintiff to succeed in a premises liability claim, the possessor of the property must have some knowledge of the hazard which caused the plaintiff’s injuries and the plaintiff must prove this superior knowledge in order to recover for his injuries. The plaintiff must show two things: (1) the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard; and (2) the injured party lacked knowledge of the hazard, despite exercising ordinary care.

Actual knowledge is when the possessor knew of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries but did nothing to correct or fix the hazard. Constructive knowledge is when the possessor should have known of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, say by way of a regular inspection, a building code, or because of past similar injuries, and yet the possessor did nothing to remedy the hazard.

A land possessor’s superior knowledge of a hazardous condition is integral to establishing the land possessor’s liability in a premises liability case. If a plaintiff cannot demonstrate the land possessor’s superior knowledge of the hazard, it is very likely the plaintiff’s claim will be unsuccessful.

What is the Equal Knowledge Rule?

Even if a plaintiff can show that the possessor of land had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard which caused the plaintiff’s injuries, a plaintiff will not recover if he had equal knowledge of the hazard. For example, if the plaintiff was aware of the hazard prior to his injury, he will not recover. For a more detailed breakdown of the equal knowledge rule, see our Slip and Fall page.

What is the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine?

An owner or occupier of property may be liable for injuries sustained by children trespassing on another’s property without permission. This doctrine applies only to children on the property without permission. The theory behind the doctrine is that children due to their age may not be able to appreciate the danger posed by certain conditions, which can result in serious injury or even death. It is the duty of the land possessor to take reasonable precautions to protect against foreseeable injuries due to an artificial condition on their property.

A land possessor may be found liable for a trespassing child’s injuries on his property if the following factors are met:

  1. The land contains an artificial condition located in an area where the landowner or occupier knows or reasonably should know children are likely to trespass;
  2. The owner or occupier knows or reasonably should know the artificial condition poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to a child;
  3. Due to the child’s age, the trespassing child is unable to discover or appreciate the danger of the condition;
  4. The risk of harm the condition poses to children outweighs the burden on the owner or occupier to maintain the condition or eliminate the danger; and
  5. The owner or occupier fails to exercise reasonable care to protect children from the harm.

Examples of attractive nuisances include:

  • Swimming pools;
  • Trampolines;
  • Train tracks;
  • Ponds and other artificial water features;
  • Ladders, climbing structures;
  • Old machinery, industrial equipment;
  • Holes, trenches, large pits;
  • Downed power lines;
  • Abandoned cars;
  • Construction sites and uncovered excavations;
  • Abandoned buildings; and
  • Old appliances (washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, etc.).
What is a Negligent Security Claim?

A negligent security claim is a form of premises liability. It relies on the notion that an owner of property that is open to the public is generally required to provide proper security for its visitors and guests. Failure to maintain a reasonably secure premise that results in bodily injury or property damage can expose an establishment to liability. The duty on the establishment arises when the owner or occupier knew or reasonably should have known of the potential security hazards and yet took no steps to remedy the hazard.

Negligent security cases can occur at any location open to the public, such as schools, apartment complexes, shopping malls, amusement parks, places of lodging, restaurants, bars, etc. The key is whether the premises had superior knowledge of the danger, consequently making the injury sustained by the victim foreseeable. If you can demonstrate the possessor’s superior knowledge of the hazard, then you may have a claim for a lack of or inadequate security.

Can a Landowner be Held Liable for a Third Party’s Criminal Conduct?

Although a landowner is not the insurer of an invitee’s safety, a landowner is nonetheless required to exercise ordinary care to protect an invitee from unreasonable risks of which the landowner has superior knowledge. If a plaintiff can show that the criminal conduct was foreseeable, then a landowner can be held liable for not taking certain steps to prevent such conduct. Any liability on a landowner’s part for the criminal activity of third parties would have to stem from a breach of the duty to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe from foreseeable attacks. An attack is considered foreseeable if it is substantially similar in type to prior crimes. Thus, a landowner can be held liable for a third party’s criminal conduct on the premises that results in a plaintiff’s injury.

Can a Landowner’s Liability Extend Beyond the Property?

Yes, a landowner’s liability can extend beyond the property. As mentioned above, a higher standard of care is owed to an invitee and extends the duty to exercise ordinary care to the premises and its approaches. The Georgia Supreme Court has found that a landowner’s liability continues even when an invitee leaves the landowner’s property so long as the invitee can demonstrate that the landowner’s failure to exercise ordinary care to maintain safety and security within its premises and approaches proximately caused the invitee’s injuries. For example, one seminal Georgia case involved an attack by third parties and the court found that because the attack that caused the plaintiff’s injuries in that case began while both the plaintiff and his assailants were on the property, the property owner’s liability could not be extinguished simply because the plaintiff stepped outside the property’s boundaries while attempting to evade his attackers.

Can a Landowner be Liable to an Off-Premise Victim?

Generally, a landowner owes no duty to someone not on the premises, such as a passerby or adjacent property owner, who is injured by a natural condition on the landowner’s property. An exception exists, however, with respect to fallen, visibly dead or diseased trees in urban areas. Thus, a neighbor could be found liable for injuries resulting from a failure to remove a dead or diseased tree from his property even if the injured party was not on the neighbor’s property at the time of the accident.

As for artificial conditions on the property, a landowner generally owes a duty to prevent any unreasonable risk of harm to persons not on the premises. This duty also extends to activities conducted on the premises by the owner or someone subject to the owner’s control that injures someone not on the property. Thus, if you can demonstrate that that landowner breached its general duty to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm, then he may be liable to an off-premises victim whose injury resulted from the landowner’s activity conducted on the premises.

Can a City be Held Liable for a Defective Public Sidewalk?

Cities can only be held liable for a defective public sidewalk if the city was negligent in constructing or maintaining the sidewalk, or had actual notice of the defect, or if the defect existed for a sufficient length of time to establish constructive notice of the defect.

Keep in mind when bringing a claim against a city, the city is entitled to notice of the claim. An ante litem notice must be sent to a city within six months of the event’s occurrence and must include details such as the time and place of the incident, the extent of the injuries suffered, and the negligence which caused the injury.

What can an Experienced Lawyer do After you Suffered an Injury on Another’s Property?

If you have been injured on another person’s property, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney to help present and develop your case. An experienced lawyer can:

  • Help you understand and navigate the complex legal concepts associated with premises liability matters;
  • Contact insurance adjusters to negotiate a resolution of your claim;
  • Demand compensation on your behalf for the injuries and costs you incurred as a result of your accident;
  • Ensure the preservation of evidence to allow the best presentation of your case;
  • Hire an expert to investigate the facts of your accident and the area where it occurred;
  • Request copies of your medical records to present to the other side to demonstrate the losses you incurred;
  • Depose eyewitnesses and legal representatives to get to the bottom of what actually happened; and
  • File suit and work up your case so you have the best possible chance at trial.
What Should You do After Suffering an Injury on Another’s Property?

If you have been injured on another person’s property, it is important to take certain steps to document the injuries and damages sustained. Here are some tips:

  • Document where the injury occurred with pictures or video if possible;
  • Seek medical attention following the incident;
  • Document all treatment that you received as a result and any costs incurred as the result of the injury;
  • Maintain any evidence, such as witness names, accident reports, and the clothing items you were wearing on the date of the incident; and
  • Contact an attorney.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious personal injury or death in a premises liability matter, contact the attorneys at Finch McCranie LLP. You may be entitled to damages to help pay your medical bills, cover lost wages, and make up for other expenses you incurred as a result of your injuries. Our experienced attorneys are more than happy to discuss your case during your free consultation. Call us today at (404) 658-9070.

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