Georgia Supreme Court Ruling Favorable for Defendants in Premises Liability Cases – by J. Robb Cruser

Earlier this month, in a favorable ruling for landowners and landlords, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in CHAM et al. v. ECI MANAGEMENT CORPORATION et al. upholding a judge’s instruction to the jury that a man robbed and shot at his girlfriend’s apartment complex may have been a “licensee,” rather than an “invitee,” and thus subject to a lower duty for protection.

The Court ruled that a landlord’s liability for the death of a visitor is determined not by that individual’s relationship with a tenant, but rather their relationship to the landlord. In the underlying case, Franklin “Basim” Callens was shot and killed in the parking lot of an apartment complex where he was living with the renter’s permission, but was not on the lease. Under the law, a licensee is “permitted, expressly or impliedly, to go on the premises merely for his own interests, convenience, or gratification,” while an invitee is defined as some who has business relations with the landlord or whose presence is beneficial to both parties. Writing for the majority, Justice Sarah Warren said a jury could reasonably find that Callens was not an invitee but a licensee.

This ruling is favorable for Defendants in premises liability cases because only “slight evidence” is required to get a charge that Plaintiff is a licensee which imposes the lesser duty on Defendant’s to not wilfully or wantonly injure the licensee Plaintiff. And the lower the duty imposed, the more likely a defense verdict in death cases such as Cham v. ECI MANAGEMENT CORPORATION et. al.