Recently in Premises Liability Category

Fatal Stadium Fall at Atlanta Braves Game Leads to Premises Liability Questions for Patrons

August 14, 2013

When sports fans enter sports arenas, the one thing that is the furthest from their minds is the possibility of a slip and fall accident. Instead their minds are on things like their favorite players, the winning odds, consuming inglorious amounts of stadium food and libations, and experiencing a level of camaraderie with perfect strangers that only a sports event could invite. However, experienced personal injury attorneys are aware of the very real possibility that a devastating accident could occur at a ballgame, successfully curbing even a die-hard fan's every attempt at enjoyment. This is because recent years have seen a spike not only in traditional slip and fall accidents at these venues, but also in accidents of a more fatal kind.

Just this week a Georgia fan attending an Atlanta Braves Game at Turner Field lost his life when he somehow toppled over a 42-inch railing to the players' parking lot located some 85 feet below. EMS responders found the man unresponsive on the ground minutes later. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, toxicology reports by the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office attributed his death to blunt force trauma. The city of Atlanta has seen other, similar accidents. In 2008, a spectator died after falling 150 feet inside Turner Field and just last year a fan at the Georgia Dome suffered an identical fate.

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Georgia Supreme Court Elects to Uphold State Tort Reform Law That Divvies Up Damage Awards To Plaintiffs In Premises Liability Cases

August 23, 2012

A small victory for property owners took place in the legal arena this summer. In July, Georgia's Supreme Court upheld the validity of a key tort reform law that permits juries to consider "the fault of [a personal injury plaintiff's] assailants and apportion the amount of the damages based on the percentage of all those responsible for the attack." The court also said a jury can receive a special verdict form requiring it to decide how much the [property owners] and "the assailants should pay, should the jury find them liable," according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

By an overwhelming vote of 5-2, the high court made this decision in response to a case involving an Atlanta Red Roof Inn hotel owner and a patron who was attacked on the hotel's premises by persons unknown. The victim sued the "owners for failing to keep their premises safe and provide adequate security." Property owners are, of course, delighted that the tort reform law has been upheld, as it drives down costs for what they often deem to be unfortunate circumstances over which they have absolutely no control. Personal injury plaintiffs' attorneys are concerned, however, that this ruling will have the unfair result of preventing victims from being "fully compensated for their injuries."

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Wrongful Death Suits in Virginia Tech Shootings Successful: School Found Negligent Due to Premises Liability

March 19, 2012

Five years after a campus shooting spree left 33 dead and numerous injured, a jury has finally weighed in on a negligence suit filed by the parents of two of the deceased. This week jurors sided with the families, finding that Virginia Tech was negligent when it delayed warning students and faculty that a shooter was on campus. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the events that ensued were reasonably foreseeable. Adequate warnings just may have prevented the injuries that ensued shortly after shooter Seung-Hui Cho barred the doors of Norris Hall and commenced with the remainder of his plan, which included killing himself. The family elected to file suit after rejecting their portion of a 2008 $11 billion settlement, choosing instead to pursue justice in memory of the two young girls' who lost their lives, even though doing so meant they'd probably receive less money. (Washington Post)

Universities and premises liability is an ever-developing area of personal injury law. Similar to the case at hand, courts have increasingly held colleges liable for failing to exercise reasonable care in preventing invitees from being harmed by third parties. In assessing such cases, courts often examine several factors including whether similar attacks had taken place before and what security measures were put in place to protect those on campus from danger. Personal injury attorneys know adverse rulings usually result when the court finds that the school took inadequate safety measures.

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Cruise Line Ship Safety Called Into Question after Captain Abandons Ship

January 20, 2012

The safety of cruise ships is once again being called into question after a captain's recent error led to a deadly crash in a reef. The Costa Concordia, which grounded of the coast of Italy before capsizing, has been making sensational headlines ever since. Officials are still endeavoring to discover exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the tragedy, but they do know that the captain abandoned ship, blatantly flouting the accepted code of ethics. So far he has been charged with manslaughter, causing a wreck and abandoning ship before ensuring the safe evacuation of the ship's passengers. Over 100 people were injured and while the death toll is capped at 16, that number is expected to increase as the search for bodies continues. As Costa Crociere SpA awaits the advent of wrongful death lawsuits that are sure to follow, the company has preemptively decided to compensate uninjured passengers with 11,000 euro ($14,460) apiece, as recompense for lost baggage and psychological distress. Should the uninjured passengers elect to accept this amount, the chances are that they will be precluded from launching lawsuits of their own.

The Concordia tragedy has highlighted some prevailing and certainly troubling issues concerning cruise line emergency procedures and practices. Some personal injury attorneys believe that cruise line passengers will quickly begin to see changes when it comes to sailing safety rules, standards, and mariner training. Others are more than convinced that the tragedy is highly unlikely to prompt big changes anytime soon. There are several reasons for this disbelief, with cost being the primary, and understandable, challenge. In fact, David Loh, a maritime lawyer with Cozen O'Connor in New York and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, told a reporter at Reuters that imposing a heavier "level of training and certification [on ship crew] would be perceived as being quite onerous."

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The Colorado Supreme Court Reverses Lower Courts decision and approves $10 Million Dollar Verdict against Wal-Mart in Slip and Fall Case

November 23, 2011

According to the ABA Journal.com, earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme court reversed a lower court's determination that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was entitled to a new trial, and approved a $10 million award to a truck driver who had to undergo multiple spinal surgeries as a result of the injuries she sustained after slipping and falling while making a delivery to a Wal-Mart store in Greeley, Colorado. According to Denver attorney Gregory Gold, who represented the plaintiff in the case, the award could be one of the highest slip and fall verdicts in the country.

As reported by TheDenverPost.com, this case began when Holly Averyt, a 41 year old truck driver, slipped and fell on ice and grease on December 13, 2007, as she delivered a load of food to a Wal-Mart store. TheDenverPost.com also reported that as a result of her fall, Averyt ruptured a disk in her back and had to undergo several surgeries, which left her unable to work. According to her attorney, after her fall in December, Averyt had to undergo three spine surgeries, one on her neck and two on her back. Also according to her attorney, because Averyt was unable to return to work, the truck that she lived in was repossessed, and she incurred about $500,000 in medical bills.

Gold, Averyt's attorney, took her case to trial last year, and was successful in convincing a jury that Wal-Mart knew about the grease spill, did nothing to clean it up and then lied about it in court. According to TheDenverChannel.com, Gold presented city documents showing that some grease from the store's deli didn't get trapped in a device designed to keep it from getting into the sewer. He argued that the overflow caused a 185-foot slick of grease into the parking lot and the truck ramp area, which accumulated for seven days.

At trial, Gold claimed that the ramp to the store's loading dock was covered with used cooking oil and other greases that Averyt she could not see. According to Gold, she tried to report the fall to a Wal-Mart employee who met her at the receiving door, but he refused to take her report. Although Wal-Mart denied that Averyt fell at the store and also denied that a grease spill ever occurred, Averyt's lawyer presented evidence at trial that Greeley city officials had investigated a complaint about grease coming out of a manhole cover near the Wal-Mart building in the store's parking lot. City inspectors who went to the Wal-Mart found a blockage in the store's grease interceptors. According to TheDenverPost.com, a man who identified himself as the store manager said the problem had been going on for a week.

Continue reading "The Colorado Supreme Court Reverses Lower Courts decision and approves $10 Million Dollar Verdict against Wal-Mart in Slip and Fall Case " »

Wrongful Death Action against Motel Owner Comes to an End in High Court

July 19, 2011

Although Georgia's Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a motel does not have a legal duty to check on a guest's welfare at his wife's request, the decision did leave open the question of whether the court may impose on hotel owners the duty to summon medical aid for a guest actually observed to be in distress, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. Accordingly, this area of premise liability appears to be continuing to evolve. For those of us who handle wrongful death cases, it seems clear that a motel has the responsibility, at the very least, to summon medical aid if they are aware of a person in distress.

The majority opinion explained its reasoning, referring to the failure of Georgia hotel night staffers to check on a man who died of heart failure after his wife's repeated pleas from Texas as an issue of "humanity and morality," not legality. Her husband was found the next morning by a maid, able to speak but unable to move from the floor. He died a short time later. While the Court acknowledged the tragedy of the event, to rule for the plaintiff, it said, "would be an epitomization of the adage 'bad facts make bad law."

The decision to grant the motel's motion for summary judgment came despite testimony from the widow detailing her numerous failed attempts to alert motel employees to her husband's plight. It also came despite a favorable autopsy from a cardiologist that revealed her husband might have survived had he received medical treatment that night.

This decision is particularly interesting to wrongful death attorneys who know it is a long-settled duty of innkeepers to maintain the safety of hotel premises for visitors. While I can understand the Court's reasoning in light of case law precedents, I disagree with the court's decision not to change that precedent. The FCDR reports that case law cited by the plaintiff's counsel seemed to suggest that this duty applied solely where the operator of a premises knew the guest was in imminent danger because he had observed it himself. In addition, holding the motel liable would also give rise to public concerns about interference with guest privacy, something the legislative body is reluctant to do.

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Wrongful Death Suit Prompted by Boy's One-Story Fall in Mall

June 18, 2011

As a personal injury attorney here in Atlanta, Georgia, I'm of the opinion that there's a lesson to be learned from every case. The motto of the story I share today is fairly clear: Stick to the plans.

It was all there. The 2009 construction permits and blueprints for the elevator in the Massachusetts Mall called for the installation of barriers between the steps and the plexiglass divider. But there was no such barrier there this March when the momentum of the escalator pulled a 4-year-old boy between the gap and to his death while his parents and mall patrons looked on. Now, the mall, its owner, the construction company and the escalator corporation face a sweeping negligence lawsuit, according to The Boston Globe.

During my research, I found the escalator company is one that has come under fire before. In October of 2009, a faulty component of one of their escalator's at the St. Louis Blues Stadium is believed to have caused it to malfunction. Several steps buckled and collapsed into each other resulting in a three-story slide for some fans. Thirteen people were injured in that accident.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that falls like these cause 75 percent of the 6000 escalator injuries per year in the U.S., and, in many instances, these accidents could have been avoided. Take the unfortunate death of this young boy, for example. There were ample opportunities for the problem to be rectified. Over two years had passed since installation and following the accident, two escalator inspectors were suspended for repeated failure to report the oversized gap in the escalator. Retroactively, it's easy to identify the culprit when things like this happen but there are proactive steps you can take to protect yourself and your children as well.

Below are some escalator safety tips:

• Hold the hands of small children and do not allow them to sit or play on escalator steps;

• Do not lean against the handrail;

• Secure loose clothing before stepping onto an escalator. This includes scarves and long coats;

• Tie all shoes laces tightly;

• Note where the emergency shutoff button is before alighting;

• Avoid placing purses or packages on top the handrail;

• Always look ahead, stand in the middle of the steps and hold on to the handrail

With Summer Comes a New Danger: Swimming Pools

June 15, 2011

1155272_pool_2.jpg"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..."

As temperatures climb and children take to public pools in droves, so too does the rate of swimming accidents. Recently, for example, Gwinnett County firefighters in Georgia spent several hours working to free a child's arm from a swimming pool vacuum line. Fortunately, in this instance, family members were able to keep her head above the waterline until she could be freed from the concrete that encased the pipe. However, this isn't always the case.

As an Atlanta personal injury attorney, I know that an even more common, and often fatal, swimming accident involves suction entrapment. This occurs when a swimmer is ensnared by suction forces as water rushes out of the drain on the pool's floor. In some cases the swimmer, usually a small child, is held underwater until they drown. In other cases, rescue has been successful but children have incurred serious limb injuries.

Typically the owners and operators of pools and sometimes the maintenance workers or pool manufacturer may be held liable for accidents like these, especially with the passing of The P&SS Act in December 2007. Effective in December of 2008, all public pools and spas have been required to install anti-entrapment drain covers on single blockable drain systems. However, while this act gives certain consumers options after-the fact, prevention is always key.

A few pool safety tips:

• Always monitor your small children while in the pool area. Don't let flotation devices serve as your child's babysitter and never assume that they alone will prevent drowning.

• Consider sealing the drain. As an alternative you can install a drain cover or Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS) on your private pool. These devices are specifically designed to prevent body suction entrapment.

• Secure long hair with hair ties or braids.

• Make sure that family members learn CPR and know how to swim. Accident victims tend to fare better if they receive help right away.


Death from fall from Hotel Window Causes Negligence Concerns

June 14, 2011

The young mother was still celebrating her 30th birthday when she and a few friends retreated to her 10th floor hotel room. What happened after they got there, however, is cause for conjecture. Perhaps, revved up from the day's festivities, the slight Atlanta resident and a friend began to tousle playfully while everyone looked on. Perhaps their antics led them across the carpeted floor and towards the room's floor-to-ceiling glass window. Maybe they simply leaned against the glass as they gave each other a farewell hug. Doubtless, though, for those in the room, time paused when the two went plunging through it and the casualties were tragic.

After the incident came many questions: Why did this happen? How did it happen? Will it happen again? And then, of course, for many Atlanta personal injury lawyers, there is the question of liability. In the wake of what many have called a "freak accident" the nation is wondering why a hotel chain that brings in millions of dollars worth of revenue annually didn't have shatterproof or tempered glass installed in its rooms. This question also plagues the father of one of the women, as he prepares to file suit against the hotel and its corporate owner.

The most obvious answer to that particular query is that, until a few years ago, hotels were not specifically required to use shatterproof glass, unless special circumstances existed. Hotels were always, however, required to ensure that their buildings could withstand normal ordinary use by hotel patrons. When the hotel chain acquired the building in 2008 and began renovations, it made sure that the structure complied with the current codes. To be addressed now is whether new windows were installed as well that would comply and, if so, whether they were negligently replaced.

Either way, hotel chains and businesses around the country should tune in as this case unfolds. Depending upon the outcome in court, perhaps they would even do well to heed the incident itself as a cautionary tale.

Disturbing Trend towards Inflatable Mishaps Should Lead to More Regulations

June 10, 2011

Jump houses come in all forms and cater to children's imaginations: slides, castles, ships, even obstacle courses. They offer parents much needed respite during outdoor playtime and are a popular item at parties. However, as a personal injury attorney in Atlanta, I know that, on breezy afternoons, they can also come with many perils. An accident this summer hammered home these little-known hazards when a gust of wind suddenly sent three inflatables at a youth soccer tournament soaring into the air - with children inside. According to the Associated Press, a mother was seriously injured when one landed on her, but the children only suffered minor bumps and bruises.

An AP interview with Jim Barber, a spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, revealed that accidents like these happen all the time. In fact, the situation is so severe that in 2001, the Consumer Product Safety Commission came out with a bulletin on how to safely operate inflatable products. A 2005 report linked the growing popularity of inflatables with an increasing number of injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms from 1997 to 2004. One of the best manners of determining a safety issue with a product is to evaluate the number of emergency room visits that result from the use of the product. An increase in emergency room visits over a 7 year period of time points to a real issue with inflatables.

Interestingly enough, the real problem may not be with the huge toys themselves, but with the people who supervise them. Guidelines for carnival, fair and amusement parks rides are fairly strict, but bouncy houses are usually not included in this category. Many states lack regulations that monitor the training requirements for handlers and operators. This is, I think, because such laws are created at the state level and many legislators are not yet aware of the real problems posed. Perhaps this incident, and the media attention it's garnering, will be the catalyst that inspires lawmakers to take a closer look at what can be done to ensure the safety of our children.

I think there are several things that can be done statutorily and with regulations to improve safety in this area. First, states need to pass a law that requires operators and installers of inflatables to become licensed. In order to become licensed, a person installing these devices would need to undergo a safety instruction course that explains their proper installation from an independent third party. Second, states need to pass regulations that address the manner in which inflatables are anchored. The problems often arise due to the failure of the installer to properly secure the inflatable to the ground. Third, a review does need to occur with respect to the design of these devices. The amount of anchorage needs to be tied to the weight of the inflatable. In the end, whether it's the children inside or the innocent bystander, persons will be injured if the states fail to take action to make sure inflatables are safe.

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