Appellate Court Addresses Knowledge Requirement in Georgia Negligence Per Se Cases

Recently, the Court of Appeals of Georgia issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by a surviving spouse of a man who died after falling into an open well. The man was driving his four-wheeler on a tract of land when his wheel entered a well that was covered by vegetation. His vehicle flipped over, and the man fell into the well.

The man’s wife filed a negligence lawsuit against several parties, including a forestry services company, based on OCGA § 44-1-14, which requires that individuals must report abandoned wells located on any public or private property to relevant county officials. She argued that the forestry company performed work on the property and negligently failed to report the well to the property owner. The defendant asked the court to dismiss the case because, amongst other issues, the plaintiff was unable to present evidence that the defendant knew of the well before her husband’s death or breached any duty to him.

Under Georgia law, plaintiffs in negligence actions must provide evidence that the defendant owed a legal duty to the victim, that they breached that duty, that a causal connection exists between the conduct and injury, and that the plaintiff suffered damages. In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant was liable under the theory of negligence per se for violating OCGA § 44-1-14 because they did not report the well.

The negligence per se statute provides that the duty to report only arises if the party has actual knowledge of an open abandoned well or hole. Here, the forestry company’s owner testified that they delivered tree seedlings and equipment to the land, but he did not do any work or planting on the property. Further, he testified that his employees are trained to mark any wells or holes with stakes and inform the landowner.

The owner claimed that any well or hole that his employees found were marked, and the only reason a hole would not have been marked was if his employees had not seen it. The plaintiff provided an expert witness who testified that the tree planters must have seen the well because of the diversion in a line of trees they were planting. However, the court ultimately concluded that the path in which the trees were planted only amounted to circumstantial evidence. Therefore, they held that the defendants did not have actual knowledge of the well and are not liable under negligence per se for the man’s death.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of the Negligence of a Georgia Property Owner?

If you or someone you love suffered severe injuries on another’s property, contact the attorneys at McAleer Law. Plaintiffs in Georgia premises liability cases often encounter challenges when trying to recover for their damages. These cases require a comprehensive understanding of the state’s often complex premises liability laws. The attorneys at our office are skilled at handling Georgia injury cases and have successfully recovered substantial amounts of compensation on behalf of our clients. Compensation in these cases often includes payments for medical expenses, loss of consortium, emotional distress, lost wages, and funeral and burial expenses. Contact our office today at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Georgia injury attorney.