Georgia’s Prior Traversal Rule in Premises Liability Cases

The prior traversal rule is a legal principle that means when a person has successfully navigated an alleged dangerous condition on a prior occasion, that person is presumed to have equal knowledge of it and cannot recover for a subsequent injury resulting from said dangerous condition. However, the prior traversal rule only applies to cases involving a static condition that’s readily discernible to a person exercising reasonable care for their own safety.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held in Brixmoir New Chastain Corners SC, LLC v. James, Ga. App. No. A22A1499 (2023) that the prior traversal rule did not entitle a defendant to summary judgment in a premises liability action where the evidence revealed that the static condition (in that case, a parking space bumper) may not have been readily discernable to the injured victim when she initially traversed the parking lot.

Case Facts

On the evening of January 12, 2020, while it was dark outside, Arlene James and her husband went to Brewster’s Neighborhood Grill to watch a football game with friends. Brewster’s is located in a shopping center owned by Brixmor. James and her husband parked in a space in the parking lot, walked to Brewster’s, and watched the game. They left Brewster’s at half time.

As James was walking to their car, she tripped on a concrete barrier that separated their parking space from an area designated for motorcycle parking. James was injured in the fall. The barrier consisted of three concrete parking bumpers or wheel stops laid end to end to separate the parking space from the motorcycle parking area. The parking bumpers were adjacent to the parking space, not across the front of the parking space as is usual with parking bumpers. They were light in color, either white or the color of natural concrete, and rested on the painted white line of the parking space.

Prior to James’ fall, the parking bumpers had been painted red and yellow. About a month before James’ fall, however, asphalt work was performed on the parking lot. At the completion of the project, new parking bumpers were installed but they were not painted the contrasting yellow and red colors and instead were left in their natural color.

Five days after James’ fall, Brixmor had the parking bumpers painted yellow at the request of the owner of Brewsters. Brixmor conceded that it is easier to see parking bumpers painted yellow than parking bumpers left in their natural, light color.

Legal Analysis

Brixmor argued that it was entitled to summary judgment, in part, because James had already traversed the parking bumpers before she fell. The trial court denied Brixmor’s motion for summary judgment and Brixmor appealed that decision. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.

The Court of Appeals observed: “viewed in James’ favor, her testimony was simply that she had previously walked within close proximity of the parking bumpers when she walked to Brewster’s, she did not notice the parking bumpers then, and she was not certain that she took the same route when she returned to her car. Moreover, the placement of the parking bumpers adjacent to the parking space, instead of at its end, was unusual and the bumpers were not distinguished by color from the white parking stripe on which they rested, making them harder to see than they would have been had they been painted a contrasting color.”

The Court agreed with the trial court that the jury should determine whether the parking bumper was readily discernible to James when she traversed the parking lot. “A reasonable juror would be entitled to find that James did not precisely retrace her exact path, step by step, from earlier in the evening when she returned to her vehicle. Moreover, a reasonable juror also could find that the difficult-to-see parking bumpers would not have been visible even if James’ earlier path of travel had taken her right next to them.”

For those reasons, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to deny Brixmor’s motion for summary judgment.

Our Atlanta Premises Liability Lawyers Can Help You

At Graham Scofield Injury Lawyers, our Atlanta premises liability lawyers have successfully represented many premises liability claims. If you were injured in a slip or trip and fall incident, we can help you.

Call us today at (404) 939-9470 to discuss your premises liability case. Also, you may fill-out our online contact form to schedule a free case review with our team. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got the answers.

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