According to the CDC, unintentional falls are the leading cause of nonfatal emergency department visits in the United States. When temperatures drop, the risk of slip and fall incidents increases dramatically. Colder weather means that Georgians will encounter more icy staircases and frozen puddles on sidewalks. This increased risk poses potential legal challenges for property owners and victims alike. In this post, we will explore the laws surrounding slip and fall incidents in Georgia due to icy conditions.
Premises Liability in Georgia:
To determine who is responsible for a slip and fall on ice, we must first understand the basics of Georgia premises liability law. Georgia law holds landowners responsible for maintaining safe conditions on their premises. O.C.G.A §51-3-1 states that an owner of land who invites people onto their property must exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe. This means that property owners should take reasonable actions to guard against danger on their property.
Types of Visitors:
However, the steps an owner must take depends on the status of the injured person at the time of the injury. The law places different duties on a landowner depending on the category of person who is injured. When you walk onto someone else’s property, you are either an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser.
- An invitee is a person who is invited onto the property by the owner for both parties’ benefit. An example of an invitee is a customer entering a business to make a purchase.
- A licensee is a person on a property solely for her own interest. For example, Georgia law considers a social guest to be a licensee. See Stanton v. Griffin,361 Ga. App 205 (2021).
- Finally, a trespasser is a person who enters another’s property without permission. Interestingly, a person can be considered a trespasser even if they enter another’s property accidentally. See Crosby v. Savannah Electric Co., 114 Ga. App. 193 (1966).
Duty to Visitors:
Georgia law provides different rules for landowners depending on the type of visitor. A landowner owes a duty of ordinary care to an invitee. See O.C.G.A §51-3-1. This means that a landowner must take reasonable steps to make sure his property is safe for any invitee that comes onto the property.
However, a landowner owes a lesser duty to a licensee. A landowner must not injure a licensee willfully or wantonly. Stanton v. Griffin,361 Ga. App 205 (2021). In other words, the owner is only liable to a licensee if he intentionally injures the guest or acts in an extremely reckless manner.
Finally, a landowner owes no duty at all to a trespasser. See Crosby v. Savannah Electric Co., 114 Ga. App. 193 (1966). Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a trespasser to recover for an injury sustained on someone else’s property.
We must also consider whether the injured party contributed to her injury. Georgia recognizes the doctrine of comparative negligence. This allows a jury to consider whether the plaintiff did anything wrong to contribute to the injury. The jury can then assign a percentage of blame to either party depending on how much each party contributed to the injury. See Clark v. Rush, 312 Ga. App. 333 (2011). Therefore, if the injured party is found to be partially at fault for not taking reasonable precautions, their recovery may be diminished.
Bringing a Claim for a Slip & Fall on Ice:
Now that we understand the law, let’s discuss how it applies to a slip and fall on ice. Georgia law says that property owners must take appropriate steps to make their property safe. Negligence on the property owner may arise if they fail to:
- Monitor weather conditions: Property owners should stay informed about weather forecasts, especially in the winter months, and take preemptive measures to address potential ice accumulation.
- Remove ice promptly: If ice does accumulate, property owners are expected to promptly remove or mitigate the hazard. This may involve salting walkways, clearing snow, or posting warning signs.
- Warn visitors: In situations where the removal of ice is not immediately feasible, property owners must adequately warn visitors about the hazardous conditions.
Failure to take these reasonable steps could result in the property owner being held responsible for injuries that occur when someone falls. However, what is reasonable depends on the status of the person who was injured:
- For an invitee, the property owner could be at fault for simply failing to recognize that the ice formed and failing to take steps to remove it.
- However, a licenseewould not be able to recover unless she could show that the property owner intentionally put water on the sidewalk to cause the fall.
- Finally, a trespasser likely would not have a claim for injury no matter the actions of the property owner.
After determining whether the property owner acted reasonably under the circumstances, we must also determine whether the injured party acted reasonably. In other words, did she do anything that contributed to her injury:
- Did she recognize that there was ice on the sidewalk and decide to walk on it anyway?
- Did she see a sign warning not to enter due to ice and enter anyway?
- Was she distracted and not paying attention to her surroundings, which caused her to slip?
These are just a few examples of situations that could cause a jury to assign fault to the injured party and lower the amount she would recover based on Georgia’s comparative negligence rule.
To successfully pursue a slip and fall claim in Georgia, the injured party must establish the following elements:
- Duty of care: The property owner owed a duty of care to the visitor.
- Breach of duty: The property owner failed to meet the standard of care by neglecting to address the icy conditions.
- Causation: The breach of duty directly caused the slip and fall incident and subsequent injuries.
- Damages: The victim suffered measurable damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering.
We work through the invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser analysis to establish the duty of care that the property owner owed to the injured party. This involves asking questions to determine why the injured party was on the property at the time of the fall so that we can determine which category the person falls into. Once we know whether the injured party is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser we are able to determine the duty owed.
Subsequently, to determine whether the property owner breached her duty we examine the facts of the incident to determine whether the property owner acted with the level of care required under the duty analysis. For example, in the case of an invitee, we would try to determine how the hazard came to be on the property and whether the property owner took reasonable steps to protect against the hazard.
The next step is to determine causation. This simply means, did the hazard (the ice on the sidewalk) cause the injuries that the injured party is complaining of. Sometimes, this is very straightforward- a person slips on ice, falls, and breaks her arm. It is easy to understand that the fall caused the broken arm. However, in other situations, it is more complicated. For example, a person slips and falls on ice. Four days later, he starts having back pain. A year after that he has back surgery. In this situation, it takes months of examining medical records and talking with doctors to determine whether the fall on the ice caused the need for back surgery.
Finally, we examine the extent of the injury caused, the amount of medical bills incurred, any lost wages from missing time from work, and the overall pain and suffering to determine the total amount of damages caused by the fall. The damages calculation involves adding up all the losses the plaintiff sustained to determine the full value of the case.
Navigating slip and fall incidents in Georgia resulting from icy conditions requires a careful examination of the circumstances and a thorough understanding of premises liability laws. If you find yourself in such a situation, seeking legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney can be crucial in ensuring your rights are protected and justice is served. Call Williams Elleby at 833-534-2542. Be sure to check out our YouTube channel for our video on this topic and many more topics.