Appeals Court Ruling Supports Role of Juries

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The Georgia Appeals Court is sending a clear message to trial judges: Let juries decide the key evidentiary issues in personal injury cases, and let individuals injured because of the actions of others have their day in court.

In two recent cases, the Appeals Court overturned judgments by trial judges that favored commercial property owners.

As we recently reported, the Appeals Court reversed a trial judge’s dismissal of a case involving a woman injured by a defective automatic revolving door at the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in downtown Atlanta.

And on the heels of that decision, the court ruled that a jury should be allowed to hear a case involving a woman who slipped at night in a well-lit Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lot after stepping on a wood fragment. The Appeals Court said the trial court judge should not have weighed evidence in dismissing the slip-and-fall case before trial.

These decisions are helpful to Georgians because they reinforce the importance of our jury system in holding property owners accountable for injuries suffered by guests and visitors.

Bottom line, Georgia law requires property owners to make sure their premises are reasonably safe for guests. An important part of this legal duty is to protect guests from unreasonable risks of harms that property owners are,  or should be, aware of.

For example, allowing a puddle of liquid to remain on the floor in a busy area of a restaurant would most likely be a breach of the legal duty of care required of restaurant owners.

In the Cracker Barrel case, the trial judge concluded that no inspection would have led to the discovery of the wood fragment that the patron slipped on in the parking lot, and, even if it had, no person inspecting the parking lot would have felt it necessary to remove the fragment.

However, this conclusion was simply premature, the Appeals Court said, especially because the woman didn’t concede that the wood was difficult to see.

It’s up to a jury to weigh all the evidence and decide if Cracker Barrel is legally responsible for the woman’s injures, the court concluded.

The case is Samuels v. CBOCS, Inc.

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