Georgia’s Distraction Doctrine for Slip and Fall Cases
Posted in Slip and Fall Accidents on May 15, 2019
We have all heard about distracted driving and distracted walking, but most people are not aware that there is a distraction doctrine that relates to slip and fall cases. The distraction doctrine does not relate to cell phones at all, but rather relates to distractions that draw your attention away from the task at hand.
If you have slipped and fallen in Georgia, the distraction doctrine could be an important element of your case. Consider the following example case, and contact The Dixon Firm to learn more about your slip and fall accident case.
Distraction Doctrine Example Case
As recently as December 2018, a Georgia Appeals Court was still battling over whether to dismiss a slip and fall lawsuit from 2014. Two out of three judges voted to throw the case out, and one voted that it should go to a jury.
According to reports, in May 2014, the plaintiff entered a Home Depot store to purchase a sprinkler timer. He entered through the garden center and asked an employee for help, and was directed to follow him to the aisle. Within about 10 steps or so, the man slipped in a puddle of water and fell on his right leg. His leg was broken so severely that it reportedly had to be amputated.
The plaintiff sued Home Depot for medical bills and lost wages, arguing that he did not know about the water on the floor. He further argued that he was distracted by the employee. Home Depot countered that the water was in plain sight and that caution signs had been placed in clear view. The retailer moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.
While all three judges did not agree on how to resolve the case, they did all three agree that Home Depot knew about the standing water and had taken measures to warn customers. Further, the judges agreed that there was no evidence that the employee engaged the plaintiff in any conversation while walking to the aisle.
One judge stated that it was the plaintiff’s own decision to walk so closely behind the employee that he could not see around him to observe the sign. The judges also noted that the plaintiff had admittedly visited that store on numerous occasions and knew that when the plants were watered that there would be water on the floor.
One of the judges stated that all of the plaintiff’s choices were his own, and that such finding is the “linchpin of this and every distraction doctrine case”, because “Not just any conduct of an employee becomes a distraction because a customer claims it is so. The distracting conduct must be in the control of the store owner and be of such a nature that it would necessarily divert a customer’s attention.”
Understanding The Distraction Doctrine
As noted by the judge in the above case, the fundamental element of the distraction doctrine is establishing that the distraction necessitates diverted attention. In such cases, the individual may not be bound to the same degree of care in recognizing or avoiding potential hazards.
In order for the distraction doctrine to apply, the distraction necessitating diverted attention must be caused by the property owner. Some examples include:
- Conduct of an employee
- Premises configuration
- Merchandise displays
In order for the distraction doctrine to apply, the plaintiff cannot be responsible for the cause of distraction. For example, if you slip and fall at a grocery store while texting, and the report notes that there are wet floor signs in the vicinity, then the distraction doctrine likely will not apply. You were distracted by your own choice to text, not by a calamity caused by the store owner.
If, however, you are walking through a grocery store and suddenly two employees race past you chasing one another and you do not see the wet floor and fall, then the distraction doctrine may apply. In this case, employee conduct was the cause of your distraction, and could have led to your not observing the signs nearby.
Get Help with Distraction-Related Slip and Fall Claims
Like the Home Depot case discussed above, and many others like it, the distraction doctrine relies on establishing that the distraction was caused by the property owner and not the person who slipped and fell. Cases involving the distraction doctrine require a careful review of precedent case law in order to be successful.
In any kind of slip and fall case – but especially those involving complex legal matters – it is best to consult a premises liability attorney before filing any sort of claim. At The Dixon Firm, we can help you build a strong case. We will review applicable laws and determine the best course of action for getting you the compensation you deserve.