Category Archives: Premises Liability

Georgia Court of Appeals Enforces One-Year Contractual Limitation Period Against Injured Tenant

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In Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, 2018 Ga. App. LEXIS 258 (5/1/18), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s personal injury case against her landlord, based on a provision in her lease which required “any legal action” against management or owner within one year of the date the claim or cause of action arose.  The plaintiff had alleged that she fell in a common area of the apartment complex when her foot got caught on a crumbling portion of a curb on March 3, 2014.  She did not file suit until March 3, 2016, exactly two years later.  However, the lease she signed contained the following clause:

“Limitation on Actions. To the extent allowed by law, Resident also agrees and understands that any legal action against Management or Owner must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.”

The landlord moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court, and the Court of Appeals quickly rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the clause was ambiguous and contrary to public policy, and affirmed:

“. . . our Supreme Court’s explicit holding that parties to a contract have the power to “agree among themselves upon a period of time which would amount to a statute of limitations, either greater or less than the period fixed by the law,” leads us to conclude that the unambiguous provision at issue is enforceable. Accordingly, any cause of action that accrued during the duration of Langley’s lease—including a cause of action for personal injuries—was subject to the one-year contractual limitation period.””

Cert has been applied for, but unless the Supreme Court overrules this decision, we are likely to see more such language in apartment leases throughout Georgia. Lawyers should now be careful to review leases before deciding whether or not to accept representation in a Georgia premises liability case.

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

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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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