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A Plaintiff’s Equal or Superior Knowledge of a Potential Hazard Remains Key to Premises Liability

On July 1, 2016, Yulonda Girardot and her four grandchildren were guests at a Days Inn hotel (the “hotel”). Girardot’s hotel room was located in close proximity to the hotel’s pool. That evening, Girardot and her grandchildren walked to the pool. At some point, Girardot left the pool area to escort her youngest grandson to the bathroom. Girardot and her grandson traversed the same route back toward the hotel room that they had taken to the pool. It was near dusk and lights illuminated the sidewalk leading from the pool area to the hotel room. At her deposition, Girardot described that as she walked from the pool area, lights illuminated the sidewalk and she saw that the sidewalk leading to the hotel room was painted, “shin[y],” and wet. Girardot further described that as the light was shining on the wet sidewalk and she could see that “it looked slick.” Recognizing that the wet sidewalk area required the exercise of caution, Girardot warned her grandson to “slow down[.]” However, Girardot slipped and fell and suffered multiple injuries to the left side of her body as a result of the fall.

Girardot then filed suit against the hotel, Williams Investment Company d/b/a Days Inn. Williams Inv. Co. v. Girardot, 841 S.E.2d 436 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020). The hotel filed a motion for summary judgment and in response, Girardot presented an expert affidavit from a retired OSHA trainer who opined that the hotel failed to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition; the sidewalk surface had deteriorated paint, which significantly increased the likelihood of a pedestrian slipping when moisture was present; and that Girardot’s fall was likely caused by the uneven surface material on the sidewalk. The trial court denied the motion and the Court of Appeals granted the hotel’s application for interlocutory appeal to review the trial court’s decision. On appeal, the hotel contends that the trial court erred in denying summary judgment in its favor because the undisputed evidence established that Girardot (1) had equal, or superior, knowledge of the alleged hazardous condition and (2) assumed the risk associated with the alleged hazard.

The hotel argued that Girardot’s own deposition testimony established that she had at least equal knowledge of the hazardous condition before she proceeded to walk on the sidewalk. Specifically, Girardot testified that she had previously traversed the same sidewalk; she noticed that the sidewalk’s surface had chipped paint; there were lights illuminating the sidewalk area and she saw that the painted sidewalk was “shin[y];” and, she confirmed that “[she] had seen that it was wet when [she] came around [from the pool area] because ... the lighting [was] shining on it, [and] you could see it looked slick.” Girardot’s even warned her grandson to exercise caution as he walked ahead of her. Therefore, the Court held that Giradot was on notice of potential hazards and “nevertheless chose to negotiate the hazard and thus assumed the risk as to the known condition by voluntarily acting in the face of such knowledge.” Id. (quoting Emory Univ. v. Smith, 260 Ga. App. 900, 902-903 (2003)). As such, the hotel was entitled to summary judgment in its favor.

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