Georgia Court of Appeals Holds Party Injured in a Slip and Fall Can Recover from Independent Contractor Responsible for Property Maintenance

Public places like shopping centers often have multiple entities that share the responsibilities for maintaining the property. If a person is injured in a fall at a shopping center, it may initially be unclear who may be liable for the person’s harm, and the entities who own and maintain the property may attempt to shift blame. Under Georgia personal injury law, property owners often have certain duties to the public that, in most cases, they typically cannot delegate.

In Green v. Pateco Services, LLChowever, a Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that if a contract specifically imposes duties on an independent contractor to protect a plaintiff from harm, the plaintiff may recover from the independent contractor directly. If you were injured in a Georgia slip and fall accident, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you determine the proper parties from whom you should pursue damages.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the plaintiff worked for a tavern, which was a restaurant in a shopping center. He was in the process of taking hot oil outside to dispose of it as part of his job duties. He was walking through the lot of the shopping center when he stepped on an uncovered water meter and spilled the oil onto himself, causing him to sustain third-degree burns. Plaintiff sued the tavern and the property owners, alleging they negligently failed to inspect the premises. The tavern subsequently joined a maintenance company in the lawsuit, alleging the maintenance company was responsible for the accident.

Terms of the Maintenance Contract

Pursuant to a contract with the property owners, the maintenance company was responsible for sweeping and removing debris from the interior and exterior common areas of the shopping center, including the lot where the incident occurred. The maintenance company was also required to report any defects or problems in the property. The contract stated that the maintenance company must perform its duties in a manner that would minimize health and safety risks to the property owner, its employees, guests and invitees. The plaintiff amended his lawsuit to allege the maintenance company owed him a duty as an invitee to report any defects in the property, and that the failure to do so caused his injuries. The maintenance company moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, holding that the subject contract was not ambiguous and only required the maintenance company to sweep the parking lot. The plaintiff appealed.

Duties Maintenance Company Owed to Invitees

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he was a third-party beneficiary under the terms of the contract and, therefore, the maintenance company owed him a duty. The appellate court agreed, reversing the lower court ruling. The court noted that normally, under Georgia law, a property owner owes a duty of care to invitees that cannot be delegated to an independent contractor. Therefore, the court explained, plaintiffs cannot recover in personal injury cases against independent contractors unless the language of the contract shows the parties meant to bestow a benefit on the plaintiff to protect him from physical injury.  Here, the language of the contract required the maintenance company to report any defects and specifically stated it was to do so in a manner that would reduce the risk of harm to invitees. Therefore, the court held that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the maintenance company based on the terms of the contract.

Consult an Experienced Georgia Personal Injury Attorney Today

If someone else’s negligence caused you harm they should be held responsible for your damages.  If you were injured in a slip and fall accident, the experienced premises liability attorneys of Scholle Law will fight aggressively on your behalf to help you recover any compensation you may be owed. Contact us at 770-717-5100to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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