A Federal Judge in Illinois recently found that a Hardee’s franchise may be liable for injuries suffered by a customer after she slipped and fell on a sidewalk outside the restaurant. The plaintiff, Georgia Gurley, alleged that the Hardee’s franchise negligently allowed landscaping rocks to remain on the sidewalk, which created a hazard and caused her to fall. The plaintiff admitted that she had been to the Hardee’s before. She initially claimed that she had never seen the rocks on the sidewalk, but she later testified that she had previously seen rocks out of the landscaping beds and on the sidewalk. There was no evidence that the restaurant actually knew about the rocks on the sidewalk.
Under Illinois law, businesses like the Hardee’s franchise “have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition to avoid injuries to their customers.” To hold a business liable for a slip-and-fall injury, a customer must prove that the injury was caused by the business’s negligence. A business’s negligence can be shown by proving that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the customer to fall.
Actual knowledge means exactly what it says – the business actually knew about the hazard. Constructive knowledge is what the business should have known through reasonable maintenance of its property. A customer can prove that a business had constructive knowledge of a hazard by showing that the hazard existed for a period of time and should have been discovered through routine maintenance and inspection of the premises.
Again, there was no evidence that the Hardee’s franchise had “actual knowledge” of the rocks on the sidewalk. Furthermore, the plaintiff had no evidence of how long the rocks had been on the sidewalk. On the other hand, the restaurant did not know when the sidewalks were last inspected for hazards before the plaintiff slipped and fell. But, the plaintiff argued that the restaurant had “constructive knowledge” of the hazard because it would refill the landscaping beds with rocks, but did nothing to correct the hazard caused by rocks spilling over on to the sidewalk.
Based on this evidence, Judge Staci Yandle of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois found that the restaurant may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and that the evidence was sufficient to present the question to a jury at trial.
The law in Georgia is essentially the same as in Illinois. Under Georgia law, a business can be held liable for a customer’s injuries that were caused by the business’s “failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.” This duty to keep the premises reasonably safe generally requires businesses to inspect and maintain their properties and to correct or warn others of hazards on the premises. As in Illinois, a business in Georgia is deemed to have “constructive knowledge” of a hazard if it remained for such a period of time that it should have been discovered during routine maintenance of the property. So, a business may be liable for a customer’s injury even if the business did not actually know about the hazard that caused the injury.
Proving that a business had actual or constructive knowledge of a hazard can be a daunting task. For this reason, customers injured in a slip-and-fall on business property should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the injury. As we discussed in an earlier post, waiting too long to seek legal representation for an injury can have detrimental effects on the strength of an injury claim.