Landowners Do Not Need to Exercise Extraordinary Care When Inspecting for Dangers

The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the grant of summary judgment to a homeowners association and a management company in Ermert v. Wildwood at Meadow Gate Homeowners Association, Inc., --- S.E.2d ----, 2020 WL 946116 (2020). In September 2016, Ermert was walking in a common area near a pond, when she stepped in a hole and fractured her foot. Ermert brought suit against the homeowners association and the management company, claiming a failure to keep the premises safe.

Within a few days of Ermert’s fall, the president of the homeowners association walked the area where Ermert claimed she fell. The president was unable to find a hole in the area, but found an impression further away that he believed could have caused Ermert to fall. At the time, no complaints had been received regarding the hole and no previous incidents of falls had occurred. In addition, the area was well maintained and mowed the day before Ermert’s fall. At her deposition, Ermert admitted she walked the area frequently and had never fallen or noticed the hole. In addition, Ermert could not remember where she had fallen, but when she was shown a picture taken by the president of the impression, she claimed that was the spot she fell.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the homeowners association and the management company finding that no reasonable inspection of the property would have revealed the hole, because “in order to find the hole one had to step on it, or scrounge around the grass.” The Court of Appeals upheld the grant of summary judgment finding that Ermert failed to show that the homeowners association or the management company had either actual or constructive knowledge of the hole. The Court of Appeals further noted that while a duty to inspect exists, the duty does not require a landowner “to conduct an inspection to disclose every latent defect.”

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