Georgia Personal Injury and Premises Liability: Who is Responsible?
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UPDATED: Mar 10, 2020
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If a person is injured while on someone else’s property in Georgia, the owner, occupant, or tenant responsible for maintaining the property may be liable. The injury and damagesmust result from negligent maintenance, such as spills on the floor, worn carpeting, falling shelves or fallen trees. A landlord might be responsible for maintaining the common areas of an apartment complex, including pathways and common stairways, while the tenant might be responsible for their individual unit. The landlord could be liable if a visitor trips on a rough paving stone, but would probably only be liable for an injury from a laundry rack that falls off an upper balcony if he knew the rack was there and failed to prevent a tenant from leaving it there.
The law in Georgia defines three different types of visitors, each entitled to a different level of care from the owner or occupier of the property: Business Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers.
Business Invitees and Licensees
Business invitees are people who are expressly or impliedly invited to the property for a business purpose that benefits both the visitor and the owner/occupier. The most obvious example is someone who goes into a store to buy or look at merchandise. Both the visitor and the store benefit from the visitor’s presence.
A licensee, on the other hand, is a guest explicitly or impliedly invited for social purposes. If the visitor’s presence is partly due to business, it’s a little more difficult to determine their status. For example, someone who trips on your porch stairs while coming to sell you magazines you don’t want may be a licensee if you didn’t post a sign on your property for no solicitations, but probably isn’t a business invitee since their purpose doesn’t benefit you.
A business invitee who goes outside the area were they are supposed to be, such as a customer who trips over a broom while looking for a bathroom in an area marked Employees Only, is probably an invitee and not a licensee. A person who comes into a store or office to visit an employee and not to do business is also a licensee. This makes a difference, because the owner or occupant of the property owes more care to a business invitee than to a social guest. With an invitee, the owner or occupier is obliged to regularly inspect the property and watch for dangerous situations, like slippery floors. With licensees, the owner or occupier is only required to fix or warn the visitor about known dangers. If they don’t know that there is water on the bathroom floor and the guest slips and is injured, the owner may not be liable. However, if business invitees are known to use a bathroom, the property controller has a duty to inspect and make sure the bathroom remains safe.
Georgia courts use the business relations test to determine if a visitor is an invitee or a licensee. If the visitor had present business relations with the owner or occupier of the property that was to the mutual benefit of both, he or she is a business invitee. If not, the visitor is a licensee.
The last category is trespassers who come on to property without permission. They might do this intentionally or accidentally, and they might have a bad or innocent intent. In any case, the owner or occupant is only obliged to not willfully or wantonly harm them.
If the trespasser is a child, however, the situation is different. For child trespassers, the courts have developed the doctrine of attractive nuisance. An attractive nuisance is a man-made thing that may be attractive to children and might pose a danger to them. If an owner or occupant has an attractive nuisance like a swimming pool or a dangerous piece of machinery on the property and knows that children might come on to the property, they are required to keep the children away from the nuisance using fences, locked gates, or other security measures.
Georgia has a recreational use statute that protects owners from some forms of liability if they make their property available for public recreation without charge. The exception to liability won’t apply if the public access to land is really for the purpose of attracting people to a nearby business owned by the same person or entity.
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