Pedestrian Injured by Fall on Two-Tier Sidewalk Can Sue City


A woman injured when she fell on a two-tier sidewalk can sue the City of Lilburn for her injuries, according to a recent ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

An important issue in the trip-and-fall case is whether the city had knowledge of the hazard posed by the sidewalk to passersby. The injured woman must prove this to win her personal injury case. The court said important issues of fact are in dispute, and a jury should hear all the evidence and rule on liability.

In June 2010, the woman tripped, fell and injured her right shoulder as she was leaving a restaurant on Main Street in downtown Lilburn. She testified that she did not see the drop of a single-step riser connecting a two-tier sidewalk outside the restaurant.

She had never traversed this step, which was effectively camouflaged by the bright sunshine and sidewalk materials of the same light-colored concrete at both levels. While brick columns flanked the riser, the step was not delineated with any visual cues, such as signage or handrails.

In 2007, the City of Lilburn had hired a contractor to renovate the sidewalk along Main Street. As a result of the renovation, the upper area of the sidewalk closest to the restaurant was separated from the lower area towards the street.

The restaurant owner testified that the step is “invisible” on sunny days and appears as a continuous flat surface when walking down toward the street.

Georgia law imposes liability on a landowner for failing to warn of or address a known condition that may expose someone to unreasonable risk of harm. When a condition is unchanging, the law presumes the landowner has knowledge of the condition.

The court overturned a judgment in favor of the city, saying important questions of fact remain for a jury to consider, especially related to the knowledge of the woman and town concerning the “camouflaged” step in bright sunshine.

The city argued that it didn’t know of the hazard because it had no record of any other falls at the one-step riser.

However, the court was not persuaded, saying it could not rule as a matter of law that the city fulfilled its legal duty to avoid creating an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to the public.

“Whether [the injured woman] exercised ordinary care for her own safety and whether she had greater or equal knowledge of the specific hazard posed by the single-step riser are questions of fact to be resolved at trial,” the court wrote.

The case is Strauss v. City of Lilburn (Case No. A14A1043).

As you can tell from the discussion of this case, each slip-and-fall case involves a unique set of facts that must be carefully analyzed and weighed to determine liability. If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident that you believe was caused by the fault of another party, contact Millar & Mixon for a no-obligation consultation about your case.