Cowart v. Schevitz

Cowart v. Schevitz

Court of Appeals Finds Landlord Not at Fault in Slip & Fall Case

Cowart v. SchevitzOnce again the Georgia Court of Appeals rules against an injured person.  In Cowart v. Schevitz, No. A15A2036 (Ga. App., Feb. 15, 2016), Plaintiff Ada Schevitz slipped and fell, injuring herself.  She later filed suit against the landlord of the premises, Joseph Cowart.

Defendant Cowart owned commercial property that he leased to operators of a restaurant.  With Cowart’s approval, the lease was assigned to the operator of a restaurant called Asian Buffet.

Ada Schevitz dined at the restaurant on January 30, 2011.  As she left, she stepped down off the sidewalk near the bottom of a ramp and onto the parking lot.  She fell and was injured.

The ramp had no railings, even though they were required by the building code.  Plaintiff’s expert testified that had railings been in place, Plaintiff probably would not have fallen.

Plaintiff had been to the restaurant two weeks earlier, and she was aware that there was a step up from the parking lot onto the sidewalk.  She was not walking down the ramp when she fell.  Plaintiff stated she did not see the step and drop-off where she fell because she was not looking for it.

Defendant Cowart moved the Coffee County Superior Court for summary judgment.  His motion was denied.

Cowart appealed, claiming he was not liable because he was an out-of-possession landlord.

Plaintiff disagreed, claiming Defendant retained the type of control over the property that was consistent with an in-possession landlord.  Defendant retained the right to approve any physical changes that might be made to the property.  Defendant also retained the right to inspect the property at any time.

Relying on its past decisions, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that these factors were insufficient to establish Defendant Cowart as an in-possession landlord.  The court determined that he was an out-of-possession landlord.

Tort liability for an out-of-possession landlord is governed by Georgia Code section 44-7-14.  That statute limits the landlord’s liability to third persons to situations involving defective construction or failure to keep the premises in repair.

Plaintiff was not on the ramp when she fell and sustained injuries.  Yet for some unknown reason the Court of Appeals devotes much of its opinion to the ramp.

According to the Court of Appeals, because Defendant Cowart did not construct the ramp, there could be no liability under section 44-7-14.  Liability was limited because the ramp and the sidewalk did not constitute obvious structural defects, plus Plaintiff could not prove that Defendant had superior knowledge of the perilous condition.  Also, no evidence showed that Defendant Cowart knew the building code required rails for the ramp.

The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and ruled that Defendant Cowart was entitled to summary judgment.

Another Plaintiff was deprived of her day in court.