Court of Appeals Reverses Trial Court’s Grant of Summary Judgment in Hotel Grab Bar Case

In Bright v. Sandstone Hospitality LLC, A13A1811 (3/26/14), the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to the owner of a Wingate branded hotel in Kennesaw, GA that had denied responsibility for a defective grab bar in a shower/bathtub.  In August 2008, Mr. Bright, while traveling on business, used the grab bar to pull himself up out of the tub in his room, and when he did so, the bar pulled away from the wall and he fell back into the tub, injuring his low back. Sandstone, which operated the hotel under a franchise agreement with Wingate International Inns, Inc., denied any knowledge of the defective grab bar, claiming it had been there since they bought the hotel.   The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, Wingate and Sandstone, but the Court of Appeals held that there was “evidence from which a jury could find that Sandstone lacked reasonable inspection procedures and thus had at least constructive knowledge of the defect. . . . [and] because questions of fact remain for jury determination, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Sandstone.”

The Court concluded:

“Under OCGA § 51-3-1, a premises owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care
to keep the premises safe for invitees. In cases of defective construction, the owner
is presumed to have knowledge of the danger.7 Freyer v. Silver, 234 Ga. App. 243,
245 (2) (507 SE2d 7) (1998).”

While the owner can be held liable, the franchisor, Wingate, escaped responsibility, although the hotel prominently bore the Wingate name and despite Mr. Bright’s testimony that he chose the hotel based on Wingate’s reputation as a safe, secure and clean place to stay while traveling.

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