Court of Appeals Win for the Defendant in a Trip and Fall Case

David Brown filed suit against Host/Taco Joint Venture (hereinafter “Taco”) to recover for injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell on a grease spot while dining in Taco’s restaurant. Mr. Brown visited Taco’s restaurant to dine with several of his friends and, after being served, his cell phone rang and he left the table to answer the call. As Brown walked down the hallway away from his table he slipped and fell on a grease spot that was on the floor. Brown claimed that he did not see the grease spot until after his fall.

Taco filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted by the trial court. Taco’s on-duty manager stated that the restaurant’s inspection policy required her, the busers, and servers to continuously inspect the floors and to look for any potential hazards or foreign subjects. If a potential hazard was observed, the policy required that it be cleaned immediately. If the potential hazard required mopping, the manager was required to stand at the location of the hazard until a wet floor sign was placed in the area. According to the manager, in accordance with this policy, she inspected the floors of the dinning area every 15 minutes and inspected the area where Brown fell approximately 15 minutes prior thereto. At that time, the floor was clean and dry. Although there were servers in the area, none of them had noticed the grease spot nor was there any evidence that the grease had been brought to the server’s attention.

The Court of Appeals reiterated that in a case in which the defendant lacks actual knowledge of a hazard, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing constructive knowledge by showing either that (1) a restaurant employee was in the immediate area of the hazard and could have easily seen the substance or (2) the alleged hazard remained on the floor long enough that ordinary diligence by the restaurant employees should have discovered it. Brown failed to present any evidence showing that Taco had constructive knowledge of the hazard using these criteria.

Brown admitted that the grease spot on the floor was not easily visible to him prior to the fall which contradicted his claim that Taco’s employees could have easily seen and removed it. Brown failed to present any evidence to show how long the grease spot had been on the floor or that the grease spot had remained on the floor long enough that upon exercise of ordinary diligence the restaurant employees should have discovered and removed it.

Although a proprietor has a duty to inspect premises to discover possible dangerous conditions and to take reasonable precautions to protect an invitee from foreseeable dangers on the premises, it is well settled in Georgia law that a proprietor is under no duty to patrol the premises continuously in the absence of facts showing that the premises are unusually dangerous. There was no evidence that Taco was unusually dangerous. In cases where a proprietor has shown that an inspection occurred within a brief period prior to an invitee’s fall, the courts have held in the past that the inspection and procedure was adequate as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals has established that inspections conducted every 15 minutes are reasonable.

For any restaurant or business owner it is important to have clear procedures in place for inspections of floor areas where patrons might be expected to traverse. The Court of Appeals has indicated that any inspection period of 15 minutes of less will be found to be reasonable absent any attenuating circumstances.

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About the Author

Michael Rust graduated from Emory University in 1980 and Emory University School of Law in 1983 where he was Notes and Comments editor of the Emory Law Journal (Law Review). Since that time, he has maintained an active trial practice in the state of Georgia both in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Rust teaches litigation as part of Emory University School of Law’s annual Trial Practice Program. He has received AV rating from Martindale Hubble, the highest rating afforded to lawyers by their peers.