Posted by Susan J. Levy
As many of you may know, Atlanta was recently shut down due to snow and ice. Since it took almost a week for the temperature to rise above freezing for any length of time, the City was paralyzed for days. After about three days, most major roads were passable and I decided to venture out to the office. On my way, I decided to stop at Kroger to re-stock my kitchen. Much to my delight, the store was open. However, the parking lot was a sheet of ice. No caution signs, no yellow tape blocking off the worst spots, no indication of shoveling, sand or ice. As I prepared for my perilous journey from car to store, I watched a healthy looking young man go airborne and land on his derrière. I saw older folks, one with a cane, navigating the ice so precariously that I found myself holding my breath until they reached safety. Fortunately, I escaped with a few groceries and in one piece.
Next stop – CVS. Different parking lot, same story. Obviously, there had been no attempt at ice removal and no warnings placed, yet the store remained opened for business.
I am, at heart, a defense lawyer. It was all I could do to resist walking up to the first employee I could find in CVS to warn them about how many lawsuits they would be defending for the next two years. Since most of the employees looked to be about 16, however, and because I did not want to interfere with a business that was not my client, I bought what I needed and slid back to my car.
Most of my insurance company and corporate clients know that to recover for injuries sustained in a slip and fall, plaintiffs must show there was a hazardous condition and that the defendant had superior knowledge of the hazard. Petrosky v. Embry Crossing Condominium Association, Inc., 284 Ga. App. 354, 357 (2007). This does not negate, however, an owner’s duty to exercise ordinary care in inspecting the premises. “Absent evidence that the owner reasonably inspected the parking lot for defects and that the ice formation was a new defect of which the owner had no notice or sufficient time to correct,” the owner may be liable for failure to keep the premises safe. Kauffman v. Eastern Food & Gas, Inc., 246 Ga. App. 103 (2000).
No one in Atlanta could claim they lacked knowledge of the icy conditions on our roads and sidewalks. However, to my clients who invite people on their premises to do business, I say, do what you can to identify and eliminate the hazard, or at the very least, put up warning signs. In the end, that will go a long way in defending against the lawsuits that will inevitably follow the storm.