Posted by Christina Cribbs
It is common knowledge that when it is raining, people track water into a building as they enter. This natural process can result in water accumulation inside the building. Shouldn’t this common knowledge refute plaintiff’s allegation that defendant had superior knowledge of the water and, therefore, is liable for plaintiff’s slip and fall? As they say, it all depends on location, location, location.
The plaintiff in Drew v. Instar Financial, Inc., was returning to work from lunch on a rainy day when she entered the lobby of her office building, took two or three steps and then slipped and fell on a puddle of water. 291 Ga. App. 323 (2008). The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment and plaintiff appealed, arguing that there were no warning signs or mats in the lobby entrance where she fell. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, holding that “a proprietor has ‘no duty . . . to warn those who enter his . . . place of business during a rainy occasion that there may be accumulations of water on the floor which have been tracked in or that the presence of the water may cause the floor to be slippery.'” No duty to warn? Not so fast.
In Parker v. All American Quality Foods, Inc., plaintiff went grocery shopping on a rainy day. 318 Ga. App. 689 (2012). He entered the store, got a shopping cart and walked by a row of six cash registers. He then slipped and fell near a bread display. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the water on the floor did not create an unreasonable risk of harm because plaintiff knew it had been raining outside on the day of the accident. On appeal, the trial court’s ruling was reversed. The Court of Appeals explained that while it is common knowledge that water may accumulate on the floor on a rainy day, this concept cannot be applied to an interior area where plaintiff has no reason to expect water accumulation. The Court did not specifically define the term “interior area” but considered the area where plaintiff fell (at least the length of six cash registers away from the door), an interior area, rather than an entry way.
In short, it all comes down to location. If plaintiff slipped and fell on rainwater in the entrance of defendant’s premises, defendant had no duty to warn. On the other hand, if plaintiff’s fall occurred in an interior area of the property, defendant may be liable for the fall because plaintiff is not deemed to have equal knowledge of the water accumulation. When the Drew and Parker cases are read together, a defendant may feel pretty confident in his chances on getting out on a motion for summary judgment when plaintiff’s slip and fall occurred at the entrance of defendant’s premises on a rainy day. However, without clear guidance from the courts on what constitutes an “interior area,” this could be an opportunity for plaintiff to create a question of fact, which may preclude summary judgment.