Trips to the home of friends are typically characterized as cheerful events. However, when a property is not maintained in a safe condition, injuries can happen and lead to often unwelcome litigation. The recent decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals in Rogers v. Woodruff deals directly with this undesirable situation and reviews the current rules of liability that apply to “social guests” injured at the homes of others.
The injuries that led to the Rogers litigation occurred on the night of July 20, 2008. On that evening, the plaintiff had been invited to the home of the defendant by the defendant’s daughter, who resided in an apartment that was built above a detached garage on the property. The defendant had purchased the property in 2006, and the stairway and deck leading up to the apartment above the garage had been built in 1996 by the previous property owner, a local residential builder, who swore by affidavit that county officials had inspected and approved the modifications shortly after they were made. Prior to their arrival at the home, the plaintiff and the defendant’s daughter had been at a bar in Carrollton, Georgia drinking with another friend. Following this spell at the bar, the plaintiff, the defendant’s daughter, and two others went back to the defendant’s daughter’s apartment. There is some dispute about what happened thereafter on the landing outside the apartment, which may have involved a scuffle between the plaintiff and a different gentleman who had been invited to the home. However, it is undisputed that the railing of the deck gave way, and the plaintiff fell from the landing onto the concrete below.
The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall, and he brought suit against the property owner, arguing that the defendant failed to inspect the deck despite evidence that it had not been built to code. To support this argument, the plaintiff deposed an expert witness in the area of construction, who testified that his examination of the deck revealed that the deck’s railing violated building code requirements for minimum height and load capacity. The defendant moved for summary judgment, but the trial court denied this motion, finding that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant violated her duty of care by failing to have the deck inspected despite evidence that it was presently not built to code.
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