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Georgia Court of Appeals Reaffirms Store is Generally Not Liable to Invitees for Injuries Sustained

Regina Boyd was an invitee at a store leased and occupied by Big Lots Stores, Inc. (“Big Lots”), which was located in a shopping center with a common area parking lot owned by the shopping center owner/lessor. Boyd left Big Lots and was injured when she slipped and fell in the parking lot. Boyd sued Big Lots claiming that her injury was proximately caused by the negligence of Big Lots: (1) to discharge the duty imposed on it by O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 to keep the store premises and approaches safe for invitees; and/or (2) to discharge a duty it voluntarily assumed to protect its invitees from the dangerous condition in the parking lot of which it had notice. Boyd v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., A18A1140, 2018 WL 3635289 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018). Big Lots’ motion for summary judgment was granted by the trial court and Boyd appealed.

Under O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1, Big Lots owed a duty to its invitees to exercise ordinary care to keep the store premises, and the approaches to the premises, “in a reasonably safe condition.” After leaving Big Lots, Boyd walked across a sidewalk in front of the store, and continued walking about 45 feet across the parking lot before slipping on a liquid substance. The shopping center parking lot was a common area owned and maintained by the shopping center owner/lessor or its assignee. Therefore, the undisputed facts showed that Boyd was not on the Big Lots store premises when she slipped and fell in the common area parking lot. In addition, because the parking lot is a “common area” cut off from Big Lots by the sidewalk, the parking lot was not an “approach” to the Big Lots premises.

The Court also found that Big Lots did not extend its approach by some positive action on its part, such as constructing its own sidewalk, ramp, or other direct approach. In fact, Big Lots did not exercise any domain or control over the parking lot so that it was required to inspect the parking lot for dangers to its invitees. Therefore, liability could not be imposed upon Big Lots for its failure to maintain an “undefined circumference” of properties. As there was no evidence sufficient to establish that Big Lots took any action reflecting a positive exercise of dominion over the common area parking lot, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in Big Lots favor.

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