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Familiarity Breeds Contempt
by Ron Davis
Lack of evidence proving that the owner of a Georgia shopping center knew that a walkway ramp on the property is hazardous has resulted in the dismissal of a liability charge made by a slip-and-fall victim.
The shopping center, located in Atlanta, includes a Winn-Dixie supermarket, and the slip-and-fall accident occurred on the walkway ramp leading from the center's parking lot to the supermarket.
The weather was rainy at the time of the accident, and the slip-and-fall victim lost her footing as she negotiated the ramp to enter the supermarket. She injured her right hand in the fall and sued the shopping center owner as well as Winn-Dixie for failing to maintain the premises in a safe condition.
At trial, an expert witness testified that the ramp was defective for two reasons: (1) it did not have a slip-resistant surface and (2) customers had to pivot on the sloped surface before entering the Winn-Dixie store. She added that vendors regularly used the ramp for loading and unloading, during which they sometimes deposited "grime and debris."
In response, the shopping center owner pointed out that no other slip-and-fall incidents on the ramp had ever been reported. Therefore, the owner added, none of the owner's employees were aware that the ramp might be hazardous.
In fact, the accident victim said she had used the ramp three times each week for 30 years--often in rainy weather--and never before had slipped. She also testified that the ramp had not changed in those 30 years, except for the addition some years ago of yellow stripes.
In ruling in favor of the shopping center owner, a Georgia appellate court explained, "The accident victim had traversed the ramp numerous times in rainy weather. No evidence was offered to show that the type of paint had changed. Also, yellow stripes had been painted on the ramp, and the victim testified that she believed the stripes signified 'danger.' Thus, her prior successful negotiation of the ramp bars her from receiving monetary damages." (Wood v. Winn-Dixie, Inc., 534 S.E.2d 556 [Ga.App. 2000])
Decision: October 2000
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