Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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