It is quite common for modern businesses to contract out maintenance or cleaning responsibilities to third-party entities that specialize in providing those services. Although this outsourcing of responsibility may help make business function more efficiently, the wide array of possible contractual relationships can create confusion when a person is injured as a result of the negligence one or more of the contracting parties. This possible muddling of responsibility is addressed in a recent opinion from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Davidson v. Meticulously Clean Sweepers, LLC.
The Davidson case arose from a slip and fall accident at a Dollar Tree store in Macon, Georgia. As a winter storm approached in January 2011, “Rivergate,” which is composed of three corporate entitles that own the shopping center in which the Dollar Tree is located, asked Meticulously Clean Sweepers to perform de-icing services at the shopping center pursuant to a contract to perform sweeping services at the site. The storm arrived on January 10, and Meticulously Clean performed de-icing services on January 9th, 11th, 12th, and 13th. On the morning of January 12, a customer who would become one of the plaintiffs in this case arrived at the shopping center and, while navigating her way to the entrance of the Dollar Store, fell on a patch of black ice. The customer photographed the black ice patch and later testified that she had both taken care to avoid other puddles and that the black ice patch on which she slipped was not obvious and would not have been reasonably seen by someone who was attentive to where he or she was going. In October 2012, more than a year following the accident, the customer and her husband brought a premises liability suit against Rivergate, Rivergate’s property management company, Dollar Tree, the manager of Dollar Tree, and Meticulously Clean Sweepers. In May of the following year, the plaintiffs settled with all the defendants except Meticulously Clean. Following further discovery, Meticulously Clean moved for summary judgment, contending that it could not be held liable as a matter of law because the injured plaintiff was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract between Meticulously Clean and Rivergate, no evidence showed that it breached a duty of ordinary care, and no evidence showed it had superior knowledge of the hazardous black ice to the plaintiff. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed.