Lau's Corp., Inc. v. Haskins, S91G0720

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Citation261 Ga. 491,405 S.E.2d 474
Docket NumberNo. S91G0720,S91G0720
PartiesLAU'S CORPORATION, INC. d/b/a China King Restaurant v. Sarah HASKINS, et al.
Decision Date27 June 1991

Page 474

405 S.E.2d 474
261 Ga. 491
LAU'S CORPORATION, INC. d/b/a China King Restaurant
Sarah HASKINS, et al.
No. S91G0720.
Supreme Court of Georgia.
June 27, 1991.
Reconsideration Denied July 24, 1991.

Page 475

[261 Ga. 495] Edwin A. Tate II, Jeanne F. Johnson, Bentley, Karesh, Seacrest, Labovitz & Campbell, Atlanta, for Lau's Corp., Inc.

Lester Z. Dozier, Dozier, Akin & Lee, Macon, for Haskins, et al.

[261 Ga. 491] CLARKE, Chief Justice.

Sarah and Louis Haskins were robbed by two men in the parking lot adjoining the China King Restaurant. Louis Haskins was hit in the head and Sarah Haskins' purse was snatched. The Haskinses brought an action against the China King Restaurant alleging that it failed to provide adequate warning or security for its patrons. The trial court granted summary judgment to the restaurant. The Court of Appeals reversed. Haskins v. Lau's Corporation, Inc., 198 Ga.App. 470, 402 S.E.2d 58 (1991). We granted certiorari and reverse the Court of Appeals.

To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56(c). A defendant may do this by showing the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of plaintiff's case. If there is no evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue as to any essential element of plaintiff's claim, that claim tumbles like

Page 476

a house of cards. All of the other disputes of fact are rendered immaterial. See, e.g., Holiday Inns, Inc. v. Newton, 157 Ga.App. 436, 278 S.E.2d 85 (1981). A defendant who will not bear the burden of proof at trial need not affirmatively disprove the nonmoving party's case; instead, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out by reference to the affidavits, depositions and other documents in the record that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. If the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but rather must point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue. OCGA § 9-11-56(e).

In their complaint Sarah and Louis Haskins alleged that they were attacked and seriously injured on December 23, 1987, in the parking lot of the China King Restaurant. They alleged that the proprietor, Sun-Lung Van, knew that his patrons were in danger of criminal attack, but failed to provide adequate warning or provide adequate security. The restaurant filed a motion for summary judgment, citing the affidavit of Mr. Van, who stated that he had operated the business since 1984 and was aware of only one other criminal incident that had occurred at or near his restaurant. On December 19, 1987, a woman's purse was snatched in the parking lot. The woman was not physically injured. He also stated that the China King Restaurant operated four floodlights at the front of the restaurant that were directed at the parking lot and two floodlights on his business sign, located in the parking lot. The lot was also indirectly lit by streetlights [261 Ga. 492] and the lights from adjoining businesses. Further, after the December 19 purse snatching, he patrolled his parking lot several times each evening.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, the Haskinses filed the affidavits of two police officers who described the December 19 purse snatching, and the affidavits of two local business people who stated that the neighborhood where the China King Restaurant is located is, in their opinion, a high crime area. They stated that they have heard that businesses in the area have experienced problems with robberies or burglaries. They did not describe, however, any precautions that they or other businesses in the area have taken to protect their patrons against the risk of criminal attack. The depositions of Mr. and Mrs. Haskins are also in the record.

The traditional elements of a negligence case are:

(1) A duty, or obligation, recognized by law, requiring the actor to conform to a certain standard of conduct, for the protection of others against unreasonable risks.

(2) A failure on his part to conform to the standard required ...

(3) A reasonable close causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury ...

(4) Actual loss or damage resulting to the interests of the other.

Sutter v. Hutchings, 254 Ga. 194, 196-197, 327 S.E.2d 716 (1985) (quoting Prosser, Law of Torts, 4th ed., § 30 (1971)). In the motion for summary judgment in this case, defendant asserts that there is an absence of evidence to support the first three elements of plaintiffs' claim.

1. A proprietor's duty to invitees is to "exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe." OCGA § 51-3-1. The proprietor is not the insurer of the invitee's safety, Pound v. Augusta National, Inc., 158 Ga.App. 166, 279 S.E.2d 342 (1981), but is bound to exercise ordinary care to protect the invitee from unreasonable risks of which he or she has superior knowledge. Atlanta Gas Light Co. v. Gresham, 260 Ga. 391, 394 S.E.2d...

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