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Court Discusses “Distraction Doctrine” in Recent Restaurant Slip-and-Fall Case


Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit that was filed against a Chick-Fil-A fast-food restaurant after the plaintiff tripped and fell in the restaurant’s parking lot. Relevant to this appeal was the plaintiff’s claim that she did not notice the cement parking barrier that caused her to trip because she was distracted by a car in the restaurant’s drive-thru lane. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff could not benefit from the “distraction doctrine” because she failed to prove that a hazard existed in the first place.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff parked in the defendant restaurant’s parking lot, entered the restaurant without issue, and ordered her food. When she was leaving the restaurant, she left the same way she had come in. However, in order to get back to her car the plaintiff had to cross the drive-thru lane. As the plaintiff was walking across the drive-thru lane, she was distracted by a car waiting in line.

The plaintiff returned her attention to where she was going and, before she got to her car, she tripped on a low cement parking barrier. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff suffered a broken arm. She later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the restaurant.

The plaintiff made several claims against the restaurant, but most were dismissed at the summary judgment stage. The trial court did, however, allow the plaintiff’s “distraction doctrine” claim to proceed.

The Distraction Doctrine

Under Georgia law, a plaintiff is generally responsible for noticing obvious hazards and taking care to avoid them. However, under the distraction doctrine, “one is not bound to the same degree of care in discovering or apprehending danger in moments of stress or excitement or when the attention has been necessarily diverted.” Essentially, the doctrine can excuse a “plaintiff’s failure to discover the hazard when the source of the distraction is attributable to the defendant.”

The Plaintiff’s Argument and Court’s Decision

The plaintiff argued that, while she perhaps normally would have noticed the cement parking barrier, she did not notice it on that day because she was distracted by the car in the drive-thru lane. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument, however, holding that in order to benefit from the doctrine, a plaintiff must first establish that a hazard exists.

Here, the court held, the plaintiff did not prove that there was a hazard. Specifically, the court explained that the type of cement parking barrier which caused the plaintiff to trip is common in parking lots, and previous courts have considered them not to be hazards. Thus, the court held that because the plaintiff was unable to establish that a hazard existed, she could not benefit from the distraction doctrine.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Establishing liability in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit is not always as straightforward as it seems, and some cases require the presentation of expert witnesses in order to establish proof of necessary elements. The dedicated Georgia personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law have the experience and dedication you need to feel comfortable placing your case in their hands. We advocate diligently on behalf of our clients at every opportunity, and will not hesitate to take your case to trial if the other side is not willing to offer a fail settlement. To learn more, call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today.

See More Posts:

Georgia Court Rejects University’s Claim of Immunity in Recent Wrongful Death Case, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, May 22, 2018.

Georgia Court Determines Steep Stairway Without Handrail May Constitute Hazard in Recent Premises Liability Case, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, December 4, 2017.


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