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Familiarity Breeds Contempt
by Ron Davis

A customer's familiarity with the Georgia shopping center that she patronizes has prevented her from winning a liability lawsuit resulting from her injury there.

The shopping center, located in Brunswick, is Altama Village, and the customer's injury occurred as she was leaving a supermarket located at the center. While carrying two bags of groceries and accompanied by her daughter, she walked down a concrete curb ramp, and when she neared the driveway surface, she apparently slipped. Although she did not fall, she twisted or turned her left foot.

The customer admitted, however, that she could have simply misstepped. In fact, her daughter later said she did not see her mother slip, nor did she notice anything unusual during the descent from the curb to the driveway.

Moreover, the customer acknowledged that she had walked up and down that particular ramp on at least 50 occasions and had never experienced any prior difficulties. She also conceded that as compared to the "many, many times before" on which she had previously safely descended the ramp, she did not notice anything different about the ramp when she allegedly slipped. It had not been raining that day and there were no reports of foreign objects on the ramp.

Nevertheless, as a result of her ankle injury, she sued the shopping center owner, claiming that the ramp had a "slippery" and unsafe surface and "needed to be less smooth."

In response, the shopping center owner pointed out that the texture of the ramp was the same as the concrete surface of most sidewalks. And, added the center's owner, the fact that the customer was familiar with walking on the ramp should have made her negotiate it without difficulty.

A Georgia appellate court, in dismissing the case, explained, "This [ramp slope] was a static condition, not a hazard caused by the abrupt or sudden appearance of a foreign object or substance. Without question, the customer knew about this static condition and, in fact, admitted that she had used this same ramp on numerous occasions. Nothing about the ramp differed on this occasion.... The customer has simply failed to establish a causal connection between the condition of the ramp and her injury."

(Johnson v. J.H. Harvey Co., 523 S.E.2d [Ga.App. 1999])

Decision: October 1999
Published: January 2000



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