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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
GOODWIN v. MULLlNS.
45292.
Action for damages. Haralson Superior Court. Before Judge Emeritus Foster.
DEEN, Judge.
The trial court erred in denying summary judgment to the defendant, since the mere fact that adjacent doorways in his residence led from a hallway to the bathroom and the basement steps respectively and that a guest opened and entered the wrong door and consequently fell down the steps, is not actionable negligence as against the builder and owner of the home.
This is a social-invitee damage suit based on negligence in the construction and maintenance of premises. Specifically, the defendant's parents-in-law were at the defendant's home and the families were preparing to go shopping together. The house in which the defendant's mother-in-law was injured had been built to plans furnished the builder by the defendant's wife. A 20-foot hall ran back from the living room to the bedrooms, on one side of which were identical doorways opening respectively to the bathroom and a flight of stairs leading to the basement. A light switch was just inside the latter doorway. The basement was dim, having few windows, and the hallway was dim because the lights had been turned out preparatory to leaving. The plaintiff turned back to go to the bathroom and, mistaking the hall door for the bathroom door, opened the wrong one and fell down the steps.
The trial court overruled a motion for summary judgment based on these facts, which were undisputed, and defendant appeals.
Peek, Whaley, Blackburn & Haldi, Glenville Haldi, J. Robert Hardcastle, for appellant.
Howe & Murphy, Harold L. Murphy, for appellee.
The burden is on the defendant who moves for summary judgment to produce evidence which conclusively negates at least one essential element entitling the plaintiff to recover under every theory fairly to be drawn from the pleadings and evidence. Saunders v. Vikers, 116 Ga. App. 733 (2) (158 SE2d 324). The plaintiff in this case occupied the status of a social invitee, i.e., a licensee. Stanton v. Grubb, 114 Ga. App. 350 (151 SE2d 237). There is no question in this case of anticipating the plaintiff's presence on the premises, since her presence in the house, and the fact that she had turned back to go to the bathroom, were known. As to the duty of care to be accorded her under these circumstances, "it is usually wilful or wanton not to exercise ordinary care to prevent injuring a person who is actually known to be . . . within the range of a dangerous act being done." Mandeville Mills v. Dale, 2 Ga. App. 607, 609 (58 SE 1060).
The evidence here establishes without dispute that the sole cause of the plaintiff's misadventure was that she mistook the door to the basement for the door to the bathroom, opened it, stepped in without realizing her error, and consequently fell. As to matters involving ordinary care for her own safety, such as whether she should have looked where she was going, and whether, if it was dark she should have turned on the hall light or the light inside the door, these are jury matters. The case stands or falls on whether the defendants were negligent in their construction and maintenance of their home. Plaintiff contends that to build a residence hallway with adjacent doorways to a bathroom and a flight of steps is in the nature of a mantrap, and to so maintain it is "a dangerous act being done." Since stairways and bathrooms, as well as other rooms, customarily open onto hallways, and since we find no precedent for holding that such construction is negligent (in which regard see Todd v. Armour & Co., 44 Ga. App. 609 (162 SE 394); Wardlaw v. Executive Comm. of the Baptist Convention, 47 Ga. App. 595 (170 SE 830), Mortgage Comm. Servicing Corp. v. Brock, 60 Ga. App. 695 (4 SE2d 669); Leach v. Inman, 63 Ga. App. 790 (12 SE2d 103); Pries v. Atlanta Enterprises. Inc., 66 Ga. App. 464 (17 SE2d 902); Pettit v. Stiles Hotel Co., 97 Ga. App. 137 (102 SE2d 693)) the defendant's motion for summary judgment should have been sustained.
EVANS, Judge, dissenting.
To go one step further, suppose the basement had been filled with wild animals? Would there have been a duty on the part of the homeowner to give some kind of warning that this door led to danger? It did in fact lead to danger, in that the descent started immediately and was unlighted. Many people who open a door have already prepared for the next step, and oftentimes it is too late to check themselves after discovering that the next step leads straight down. Homeowners know that guests who are hurrying to the bathroom to answer the call of nature may not be prepared to stand and wait and carefully consider the next step after opening the door. Therefore, I would affirm the trial court in denying summary judgment since it is a jury question as to whether or not the defendant, by his omission, made himself liable, under the circumstances, to the plaintiff.
I am authorized to state that Judge Pannell concurs in this dissent.
ARGUED APRIL 14, 1970 -- DECIDED JUNE 24, 1970.
Friday May 22 16:45 EDT


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