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Summary Judgment Affirmed For Property Owner In Premises Liability Action

October 6, 2014

Charlie McDaniel successfully defended a commercial property owner in a premises liability cause of action. The cause of action arose on May 12, 2006; the plaintiff, an HVAC repairman, was seriously injured when he fell 21 feet from the roof of the defendant’s building to the parking lot. A tenant of the property owner hired the repairman to install an HVAC unit on the roof of the building that would service its restaurant. The property owner maintained a separate unit for its convenience store. An exterior ladder affixed to the back wall of the building provided access to the roof. Plaintiff ascended the ladder, along with three co-workers to begin removal of the old HVAC unit. After the old unit was removed and the new unit put in place, the plaintiff descended the ladder, retrieved a part from his truck, and again climbed the exterior ladder to the access the roof. When the plaintiff stepped from the ladder to the roof, the ladder, suddenly and without warning, pulled free from the wall, and the repairman fell to the parking lot below. The repairman sued the property owner and the tenant. The cause of action asserted negligence in failing to properly maintain the ladder, including the failure to properly inspect the ladder for defects.

After discovery, McDaniel moved for summary judgment on behalf of the property owner. The evidence established that prior use of the ladder shortly before the fall, and Plaintiff’s use of the ladder immediately preceding the fall, failed to reveal any alleged defects or instability with the ladder, and thus no evidence of actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition associated with the ladder. The State Court of Bibb County entered summary judgment in favor of the property owner and tenant; in addition to finding an absence of knowledge on the part of the defendants, the trial court found that any defect that caused the ladder to suddenly detach from the wall was not discoverable by any reasonable inspection. The court declined to adopt Plaintiff’s argument that periodically removing the ladder from the wall was a reasonable method to detect hidden defects. The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment on March 24, 2014, and denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Court denied the Petition for Certiorari on October 6, 2014. The plaintiff demanded $1.2 million at mediation and walked away from a $250,000 offer.

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For informational purposes only. Past success does not indicate the likelihood of success in future cases.