Personal Injury Claim Against Hyatt Regency Cleared for Trial
We are pleased to report the success of a plaintiff in a personal injury case. Kimberly Fitzpatrick was injured when she fell off a stage in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Savannah. The Chatham County Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Hyatt. But the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed that lower court decision in Fitzpatrick v. Hyatt Corporation, 779 S.E.2d 110 (Ga. App. 2015), clearing the way for the case to go to trial.
While attending a conference at the Hyatt, Ms. Fitzpatrick was onstage with several other members of the audience. The stage was two feet above the floor and had been set up on risers in the hotel ballroom. The stage was supposed to have been set up as a large rectangle, but one section, a small rectangle at the rear of the stage, had not been installed.
An audience member was leaving the stage, and Ms. Fitzpatrick backed up to let her pass. When Ms. Fitzpatrick backed up, she fell off the stage into the smaller rectangular area. She injured her neck and back in the fall.
Hyatt’s banquet manager had overall responsibility for setting up the stage. He testified that he did not plan for the small rectangle to be omitted at the rear of the stage, nor did any Hyatt employee inform him of any such change. He further testified that they would not set up a stage in that manner because it was unsafe.
The Georgia Court of Appeals stated that Ms. Fitzpatrick had to show two elements to prevail. First she had to show that Hyatt had “actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.” Second, she was required to show that “despite exercising ordinary care” for her own safety, she “lacked knowledge of the hazard” due to Hyatt’s actions or conditions under Hyatt’s control.
No evidence explained who reconfigured the stage to omit the small rectangular area at the rear of the stage. Nor did any evidence show when the stage was reconfigured. But Hyatt employees did install the sound system after the stage had been assembled.
From this the Court of Appeals ruled that a factfinder, such as a jury, could conclude “that Hyatt had the means and opportunity to discover and remedy the hazardous configuration, or would have discovered the hazardous configuration had it exercised reasonable care in inspecting the premises and stage.”
Ms. Fitzpatrick crossed the first hurdle. She showed that Hyatt could have had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.
While onstage, Ms. Fitzpatrick faced the audience. To see the small rectangular area behind her, she would have had to turn around a complete 180 degrees and face the back of the stage.
According to the Georgia Court of Appeals, “Whether the exercise of reasonable care required Fitzpatrick to turn around 180 degrees before she moved out of the way of another person leaving the stage is a question for resolution by the factfinder,” such as the jury.
Ms. Fitzpatrick had met the second hurdle. She had shown that she could have exercised ordinary care for her own safety, yet lacked knowledge of the hazard due to Hyatt’s actions or conditions under Hyatt’s control.
Ruling in Kimberly Fitzpatrick’s favor, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Chatham County Superior Court that granted summary judgment in favor of Hyatt. This cleared the way for the case to go to trial.
We often report how the rights of injured people are being jeopardized or eliminated by our legal system. It is refreshing to report some good news for a change. This is a sign that there is still hope for wrongfully injured people to obtain proper redress through our legal system.