Navigating Georgia's Premises Liability Laws
Posted in Legal Alerts on July 25, 2022
Property owners owe a duty of care to those who come onto their property when they hold their premises open to the public. Whether you own a business or any other type of establishment, someone who is injured on your property may try to sue you. Georgia law does not hold you automatically responsible by the mere fact that an injury occurred on your premises. Instead, a plaintiff would need to prove you were negligent. If they cannot meet their burden of proof, they cannot be awarded financial compensation. Below, we discuss Georgia’s premises liability laws in greater detail.
Premises Liability Laws Include Many Types of Cases
Premises liability laws give rise to a broad category of claims that encompass many scenarios. These lawsuits can range from a common slip and fall to a negligent security claim where a plaintiff claims you did not have enough security to prevent an attack. Some additional examples of accidents that can be covered by premises liability laws include:
- Dog bites
- Fire safety
- Falling objects
- Escalator and elevator accidents
- Inadequate supervision of children
The Plaintiff Must Prove Negligence
There is one common element among these diverse claims, and that is what the plaintiff needs to prove in order to win their case. The plaintiff must prove the property owner was negligent; and, they can prove negligence only if they are able to show the following:
- The property owner was actively negligent, meaning they created the dangerous condition
- The property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and did nothing to remedy it in time to prevent an injury
Premises liability cases often rely on constructive knowledge, which is knowledge a person would have if they exercised reasonable care or diligence. A defendant in a premises liability case is presumed to know a dangerous condition exists if a certain amount of time passes and they have not discovered or done anything about the dangerous condition – but a person exercising reasonable care or diligence would have. The plaintiff will have the obligation to prove what the defendant knew and when they should have known it. They would need to work to obtain the evidence that shows how long the alleged dangerous condition existed and what the defendant did or did not do. The plaintiff needs to prove the defendant did something wrong that caused their injuries after gathering evidence that shows what happened.
The Duty of Care Owed to People on Your Property
It is important to know that your role as a property owner under Georgia law does not require you to prevent or insure against every single premises liability accident. However, you do owe some duties based on the status of a person coming onto your land.
- You owe the highest duty to an invitee, who is someone that you invite (either through an express or implied invitation) to come onto your premises for any lawful purpose. Here, your duty of care is to keep the premises and approaches safe.
- Under Georgia law, the duty of care owed to a licensee is less than that of an invitee. A licensee is someone permitted to go on your premises for their own interests, convenience, or gratification. You do not have any contractual relationship with a licensee but you must avoid “recklessly or wantonly” injuring a licensee.
- The only duty of care owed to a trespasser is to refrain from causing a willful or wanton injury.
Property Owners Do Not Have to Pay Every Time Someone is Hurt
Even if a plaintiff is able to prove they were injured on your property, you would not have an automatic obligation to pay them. One of the elements of negligence a plaintiff must prove is that the defendant’s failure to meet its duty of care was what actually caused their injuries. For example, even if there was a slippery substance on the floor, the plaintiff could have tripped on their own accord, and thus not because of anything on the floor.
As a property owner, you have a number of premises liability defenses available to you, including:
- The condition should have been open and obvious to the plaintiff
- The plaintiff was the cause of their own injuries because they were careless themselves
- There was an intervening act of a third person that happened between the alleged negligence and the accident
- The danger or the condition was not reasonably foreseeable
The Plaintiff May Have Still Done Something Wrong Themselves
In premises liability cases other than slip and fall cases, the defenses center on many of the same concepts. Under Georgia law, an individual visiting another’s property has an obligation to use their own reasonable amount of care. They assume certain risks by virtue of being somewhere that is known to be unsafe for them. In any premises liability case, you can also look at what the plaintiff did and knew. They won’t be able to recover money from you for their injuries if they were largely to blame for what happened.
Every premises liability case is highly dependent on the facts. It is the plaintiff’s legal obligation to gather those facts in order to prove that the property owner did something wrong. Until that point, no assumptions are drawn.