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ROOFER LOSES PREMISES LIABILITY ACTION IN GEORGIA COURT OF APPEALS

Posted by Susan J. Levy

In Sipple v. Newman, 2012 Ga. App. LEXIS 12 (January 12, 2012), Plaintiff, employed as a roofer, was hired by a 93-year-old woman to clean thick wet layers of pine straw off of her roof. In order to remove the pine straw from the gutters and an awning, Plaintiff leaned a ladder beside the awning and then rested his foot on the awning for balance. Plaintiff was injured in a fall after the awning gave way.

After his fall, Plaintiff learned that the awning, which was built before 1940, had originally been attached to the brick exterior with bolts, but that a painting contractor had removed the awning and reattached it with nails, in violation of the building code. Plaintiff sued the home owner, who was bedridden at the time and now deceased, for the failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping her premises safe. The trial court denied Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

In Georgia, an owner of land is liable to the owner’s invitees “for injuries caused by [the owner’s] failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.” O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. “An owner’s obligation to keep the premises safe includes a duty to inspect the premises to discover possible dangerous conditions of which [the owner] does not know and to take reasonable precautions to protect the invitee from dangers which are foreseeable from the arrangement and use of the premises. Still, the owner’s duty to exercise ordinary care is not a duty to absolutely prevent injury as [an owner] is not an ensurer of the safety of its [invitees]. The true ground of liability is the [owner’s] superior knowledge of the perilous instrumentality and the danger therefrom to persons going upon the property.” Id. at *3, *4 (citation omitted).

In this case, the Defendant was able to oversee the maintenance and repair of her home and property, but there was no evidence that she had instructed the painting contractor to re-attach the awning with nails or that she had ever known that he had done so. Moreover, there was no visible evidence that the awning was not well secured. Consequently, without evidence that the Defendant had actual knowledge of the defect or had any notice of the defect, the Court held that there was no material issue of fact regarding whether she had superior knowledge of the defect. The Court of Appeals, which granted the Defendant’s application for interlocutory appeal, found that the trial court had erred in denying the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.