A Complete Guide to Georgia Premises Liability Law
Premises liability is a legal doctrine that states that property owners are responsible for injuries victims sustain on their property due to their negligence. In Georgia, property owners are required to make a reasonable effort to maintain safety on their premises.
Do I Have a Valid Premises Liability Claim?
Have you or your loved one been injured on another person’s property due to the property owner’s negligence? In that case, you may be eligible to file a premises liability lawsuit against the landowner for compensation. Premises liability laws vary from state to state. A premises liability law that would apply in another state may not apply in Georgia. For this reason, it is important to work with an experienced attorney who understands Georgia premises liability laws.
Landowners in Georgia Have a Duty to Keep Their Properties Safe
Under Georgia premises liability law, a property owner or occupier has a legal obligation to use “ordinary care” to keep their property safe for visitors. The legal obligation to exercise “ordinary care” depends on the type of visitor in question. There are three main classifications of visitors to another person’s property — invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
Specifically, Georgia Code Section 51-3-1 defines the reasonable effort to keep premises safe as the “duty of owner or occupier of land to an invitee.” Invitees can be invited onto the property “by express or implied invitation,” meaning that the invitee has entered the property lawfully and with permission. The owner’s duty extends to the property and it’s approaches. For example, the entries and other parties the invitee will need to cross to gain entrance to the property.
A Premises Liability Lawsuit is a Type of Personal Injury Lawsuit
A premises liability lawsuit is a specific type of lawsuit that falls under the legal umbrella of personal injury lawsuits. Most personal injury lawsuits, including premises liability lawsuits, involve negligence. Negligence can be defined as a failure to act with the standard of care that an ordinary person facing the same or similar circumstances would have acted. In other words, most premises liability lawsuits do not involve a property owner who intended to hurt a person who came onto their property.
Instead, most causes involve a property owner whose negligence or carelessness resulted in a dangerous condition on their property, resulting in an innocent person’s injury. Some of the most common locations for Georgia premises liability accidents include the following:
- Amusement parks
- Parking lots and garages
- Small businesses
- Grocery stores
- Public spaces
- Office buildings
- Retail stores
- Movie theaters
- Places of employment
- Hotels and resorts
Invitees are visitors that have an express or implied invitation from a property owner. In Georgia, property owners owe invitees the highest standard of care. Property owners are legally required to know about any hazards on their property that could injure invitees. They must make reasonable efforts to eliminate those hazards and warn invitees of any potential hazards. Examples of invitees include a friend asking another friend to visit their home. The visiting friend is considered an invitee. Customers who walk into a store during open hours are also considered invites.
A licensee also has express or implied consent from a property owner. However, licensees enter the premises, unlike an invitee, for their own purposes. Usually, the licensee’s purpose does not have a connection with the property owner’s interest. A licensee visits for his or her own interests, convenience, or gratification. Regarding licensees in Georgia, property owners can only be held liable for “willful or wanton” injuries that occur on their property. Victims need to prove that a reckless act on the property owner’s part caused the injuries they sustained.
Do Trespassers Have Premises Liability Rights in Georgia?
Property owners do not owe a legal duty of care to trespassers other than to not cause willful and wanton injuries to trespassers on their property. There are some exceptions to this general rule. If property conditions exist that create an “attractive nuisance,” property owners can be held responsible when a child trespasses onto their property and becomes injured or dies. According to Georgia’s doctrine of attractive nuisance, property owners must take necessary steps to prevent children who trespass from injuring themselves on enticing, harmful conditions or objects.
What is the Statute of Limitations on Premises Liability Claims in Georgia?
Individuals who become injured on another person’s property only have a limited amount of time to pursue compensation through a premises liability lawsuit. Every state imposes statutes of limitations which are timelines for filing personal injury lawsuits. In Georgia, victims of premises liability only have two years to file a lawsuit in civil court. Generally, the statute of limitation begins on the date of the injury. If you fail to file a claim within two years of the date you became injured, you will likely lose your right to pursue compensation through a lawsuit.
How to Prove the Elements in a Premises Liability Case in Georgia
As the victim in a premises liability case, you will need to prove four elements. Contacting an attorney as soon as possible after the accident can help you ensure important evidence is protected and does not disappear. An attorney can immediately begin investigating your case and gathering evidence proving all of the elements of a premises liability claim. One of the most important parts of succeeding in a Georgia premises liability claim is proving that you were invited to the property or had a legal right to be there.
A Standard of Care Existed
Property owners are not the only ones who can be held liable in premises liability cases. Anyone who exercises control over the property conditions where the incident occurred can be found liable for the victim’s damages. As a result, a property owner, manager, or someone who leases the property can be held liable. Georgia premises liability law recognizes that different standards of care can apply to property owners or operators. For example, a property owner may have greater responsibility for unsafe conditions within the building than a landlord who does not have full control.
The Defendant Breached the Standard of Care
Next, the plaintiff who brings a premises liability lawsuit must prove that the unsafe conditions on the property caused their injuries. Proving that a dangerous condition existed could be relatively easy or could be difficult, depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, finding evidence of the substance could be challenging if a victim slipped on a dangerously slippery surface and the property owner immediately cleaned the surface up after the accident. If you can safely do so, it is wise to take photos of the site of the accident on your phone after it occurs to protect yourself.
Proving causation can be one of the most difficult aspects of succeeding in a premises liability lawsuit. As the plaintiff, you must prove that the defendant’s action or inaction directly caused your injuries. It is not enough to show that a hazardous condition on the property caused your injury to succeed. Instead, you need to prove that the defendant’s lack of care caused the hazard.
In other words, their mere existence of an unsafe condition is not enough to sustain a premises liability lawsuit. You must show that the property owner failed to use reasonable care to protect invitees or licensees on the property. As has been stated, the specific legal duty of care owed by the landlord depends on whether the injured party was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser.
The Plaintiff Suffered Damages
The plaintiff must be able to prove that the injury they sustained was sufficient to cause damages. For example, if a victim slipped and fell on a wet floor in a retail location but did not suffer any damages other than a small bruise that went away in a week, pursuing a claim for compensation would not be possible.
The term ‘damages’ encompass all the financial harms a victim suffered due to the accident. Damages include economic damages that are easily quantifiable, such as current and future medical expenses, lost income, loss of future earning capacity, property damage, and more. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and other damages that are more difficult to quantify.
Georgia’s Contributory Negligence Law
Georgia is one of only a few states that implement the doctrine of contributory negligence when it comes to recovering damages in personal injury lawsuits. According to Georgia Code Section 51-12-33, when a defendant’s negligence is partially responsible for the injury the victim sustained, the court must determine the extent of that responsibility.
Courts will reduce any damages awarded to the victim accordingly. If the court determines that the victim was more than 50 % responsible for their own injury, the victim will lose all rights to recover damages. For this reason, it is crucial that premises liability victims reach out to a skilled attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can gather evidence and negotiate aggressively with the defendant, presenting evidence that you were not at fault for the incident. If you were partially at fault, an attorney might be able to negotiate the percentage of your fault down so you can recover the full and fair compensation you need and deserve.
Slip and Fall Accidents in Georgia Premises Liability Law
Slip and fall accidents are among the most common types of premises liability lawsuits. These accidents can occur in nearly any location, from retail stores to job sites. When a customer slips on the broken pavement outside of a store, for example, the property owner may try to avoid paying you damages by arguing that a reasonable person would have noticed that the pavement was broken and not walked on that pavement. An attorney can work to help you prove that a reasonable person would have also slipped and fallen in the same or similar conditions so you can obtain compensation.
Georgia law categorizes slip, trip, and fall cases into two separate categories. The first category involves cases in which a “static defect” is involved, such as broken pavement. The second category involves foreign substances, such as a pool of water.
Common Causes of Premises Liability Injuries
When a property owner, occupier, or manager fails to reasonably protect their customers, guests, or others with the right to be on the property, they can be held liable for accidental injuries victims suffer on their properties. Premises liability lawsuits are a broad category of personal injury law that can include a variety of claims and situations. These types of legal claims can occur on residential and commercial property.
Part of managing a property is to provide safe premises for customers, tenants, and employees. When victims are injured in robberies, break-ins, or due to an act of vandalism, the business can come under scrutiny for having poor security practices.
For example, if the owner of an apartment complex knows that multiple incidents of assault and rape have occurred in dark staircases at the apartment complex, they have a legal obligation to use reasonable measures to protect guests in the future. If another guest were to be assaulted on a dark staircase, the victim could claim that the landowner’s negligent security practices caused their injuries. Faulty locks, alarm systems, and a lack of security personnel can also lead to foreseeable injuries and negligent security claims.
Lack of Maintenance
Many different types of building elements can become dangerous if they are not properly maintained. Faulty elevators, light fixtures, staircases, and appliances can all cause injuries. For example, if an elevator or appliance malfunctions due to a lack of maintenance, a visitor or tenant may become injured. If an elevator drops suddenly and hits another person, the landlord or building manager can be held liable.
Unrestrained, Dangerous Dogs
Property owners have a legal duty to keep their dogs restrained, especially when the dog has aggressive tendencies. If a dog causes another person injury because of the owner’s lack of training, their failure to leash the dog, or the absence of a fence, the owner can be held responsible for any resulting damages.
Swimming Pool Accidents and Drownings in Georgia
Swimming pools offer a great way to cool off on a long, hot, Georgia summer day. Unfortunately, Georgia residents become injured or die in swimming pool accidents every year. Patrons of a public swimming pool may slip and fall due to hazardous conditions, suffering serious injuries.
A swimmer could find themselves struggling to stay afloat while a negligent lifeguard is texting instead of rescuing the victim. In other cases, a property owner may know that neighborhood children tend to enter his property and fail to put a fence around the pool. In all of these situations, victims or their surviving family members may have a right to pursue a premises liability lawsuit.
Public Pool Accidents
Lack of proper maintenance, lack of trained lifeguards, and dangerous conditions in and around the pool can all cause deadly accidents. Obtaining compensation after an injury or death that occurred at a public pool can be challenging. For example, if a government entity owned the public pool, the victims or surviving family members would need to pursue a claim against the government agency that owned and maintained the pool, such as a municipality or city.
The victim would likely need to file a notice of their intent to sue the government before pursuing a claim. Generally, there are strict deadlines for filing notices with municipalities. Failure to follow these rules precisely could result in your ability to move forward with your premises liability attorney.
Private Pool Accidents
Homeowners with a pool in their yards are legally obligated to ensure the pools are safe and functioning properly. Installing a fence can ensure children do not accidentally fall into the pool. A faulty drain can result in a dangerous suction hazard that could trap a swimmer underwater, causing serious injury or death.
Private pool owners generally have insurance policies. Insurance providers may reach out to injury victims or their surviving family members to try to negotiate a settlement. A settlement can be the best option, but most initial settlement offers are far too low. An attorney can aggressively negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf.
What Damages Can I Win From a Premises Liability Lawsuit in Georgia?
Recovering compensation from a personal injury lawsuit often puts a strain on a victim’s family and their personal life. Attorneys can negotiate for a settlement that accounts for all of their many damages. When determining what damages you can receive for a premises liability claim in Georgia, you need to take your injuries and losses into consideration. If you have been injured due to a property owner’s lack of care, you may be entitled to receive compensation for the following types of recoverable damages:
- Past and future medical bills
- Lost wages and income
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life
- Property damage
- Psychological trauma
No two situations are totally identical. Several details may affect the value and outcome of the claim. When pursuing a premises liability claim in Georgia, legal teams and other parties need to gather any available evidence to aid in establishing a liable party and negotiating damages.
Dealing With Injuries and Pursuing Compensation in a Premises Liability Claim
Injuries sustained in slip and fall accidents and other premises liability accidents can be devastating. Victims with preexisting medical conditions are at a greater risk of suffering substantial health complications from even a single fall. For example, elderly individuals are at a higher risk for personal injuries, including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and hip fractures. Other potentially severe injuries include the following:
- Broken bones
Depending on the severity of the injury, victims may incur substantial medical bills for their ongoing treatment. Even a sprain could require significant medical attention. When a victim suffers injuries that prevent them from returning to work, the losses will be compounded. Severe injuries such as TBIs and paralysis can result in millions of dollars of expenses over a person’s lifetime. Working with a skilled attorney can help you properly evaluate the current and future damages you will incur. After working with financial and medical experts to correctly value your claim, your attorney can begin aggressively pursuing the recovery you deserve.
Wrongful Death Claims in Georgia
What happens when a victim dies from injuries that occur on another person’s property? The victim’s surviving family members may have the right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party or parties. Family members may have a valid claim for compensation against a business, property owner, homeowner, or another responsible party. While nothing can bring your loved one back, a wrongful death lawsuit can help you and your family move forward by providing compensation for the following:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Final bills of your loved one, including medical bills before the decedent’s death
- Lost inheritance
- The decedent’s lost wages and benefits
- Loss of the decedent’s love and companionship
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional pain and suffering
Your attorney may be able to identify additional recoverable damages related to your loved one’s injuries and death. It may be possible to pursue survival damages that can significantly increase the value of your wrongful death case under some circumstances.
Contact a Georgia Premises Liability Attorney Today
Is a negligent property owner responsible for your personal injuries or property damage? If so, you may have a right to hold them responsible for their misconduct or negligence. Every premises liability lawsuit is unique and an attorney can investigate all of the details in your case to arrive at a fair settlement amount.
An attorney will also be able to help you understand your legal rights and options so you can make informed decisions. You only have a limited amount of time to pursue compensation after a premises liability incident. Contact Atlanta premises liability attorney James Rice to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.
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