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by Ron Davis
The outcome of a lawsuit resulting from a slip-and-fall accident at an Atlanta shopping center has demonstrated the value of a well-conceived property-inspection program.
The shopping center is North DeKalb Mall, and the slip-and-fall accident occurred when a man and wife were walking for exercise in the center’s common area. The man apparently stepped on a wet spot, lost his footing, and fell, resulting in serious injuries.
A witness to the accident described the wet spot, not as an easily visible puddle, but as “water sprinkled around on the marble floor in an area of approximately two feet.” And the wife of the injured man said the wet spot was difficult to detect because the water blended with the color of the flooring. She added, “You had to go kind of sideways to look down [to see the water]”
In response, the shopping center’s owners submitted evidence of a “continuous inspection” policy, under which at least one shopping center employee is always patrolling the common area looking for hazards and passing any one point every 15-30 minutes. The center’s owners could not prove, however, that any of their employees had actually patrolled the common area just before the accident in this case occurred.
The injured man did not contend, however, that shopping center personnel had actual knowledge of the water on the floor. Instead, he argued that the water had been on the floor for a sufficient length of time that the center’s inspectors should have discovered and removed it.
A Georgia appellate court ruled in favor of the shopping center, explaining, “Although knowledge of a hazard may be inferred when there is evidence that the property owner lacks a reasonable inspection procedure, that is not the case there because there is undisputed evidence that North DeKalb Mall had a policy of continuous inspection for the common areas.”
Moreover, the judges added, “Given that the water on the mall floor was not easily visible…the injured man in this case is unable to show that the hazard could have been discovered during a reasonable inspection. (Chastain v. CF Georgia North DeKalb L.P., 569 S.E.2d 914 [Ga.App. 2002])
Decision: August 2002
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