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Henderson v. St. Paul Baptist Church

Court of Appeals of Georgia

July 10, 2014

HENDERSON et al.
v.
ST. PAUL BAPTIST CHURCH

Page 534

Premises liability. Clinch Superior Court. Before Judge McClain.

Farrar, Hennesy & Tanner, Kirk Farrar, for appellants.

Young, Thagard, Hoffman, Smith, Lawrence & Shenton, J. Holder Smith, Jr., for appellee.

BRANCH, Judge. Barnes, P. J., and Boggs, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 535

 Branch, Judge.

Georgia and Van Henderson appeal from an order of the Clinch County Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of St. Paul Baptist Church on the Hendersons' claims for premises liability and loss of consortium. The Hendersons contend that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because factual questions exist as to whether St. Paul failed to keep its premises safe and failed to warn Georgia Henderson of a known, hidden hazard on its property. They further assert that a factual question exists as to whether Georgia Henderson encountered the hidden hazard when she attempted to take a shortcut to the side entrance of the church, rather than walking on the designated approach to the church's main entrance. For reasons explained below, we agree with the Hendersons and therefore reverse the order of the trial court.

" In an appeal from the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment, we apply a de novo standard of review, viewing the evidence, including any reasonable conclusions and inferences that it supports, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." SKC, Inc. v. eMag Solutions, 326 Ga.App. 798 (755 S.E.2d 298) (2014) (citation omitted). Viewed in the light most favorable to the Hendersons, the record shows that on January 7, 2010, the Hendersons were scheduled to conduct a revival service as visiting pastors at St. Paul at the invitation of St. Paul's pastor, Amos Lee, Jr. The Hendersons arrived at the church shortly before the 7:30 p.m. service.[1] There is no designated parking lot on church property, but upon their arrival, the Hendersons saw Pastor Lee, who motioned for the Hendersons to park behind his car, which he had parked on the church property next to the left side of the church building. The Hendersons then saw Lee and Lee's wife enter the church building through a side entrance.

Van Henderson, who was driving, parked the car on the left side of the church behind Lee's car, next to shrubbery that was planted along the side of the church building. Van Henderson was careful, however, to park the car far enough away from the shrubbery that [328 Ga.App. 124] when opened, the passenger side door would not hit the bushes. Van Henderson then exited the car and went toward the front entrance of the church to check on the arrival of musical equipment being brought from the Hendersons' church for use at the revival service. Georgia Henderson and several passengers remained in the Hendersons' car, but after a few minutes, Georgia exited the car planning to walk with her fellow passengers between her car and the shrubbery to the front of the church building. When she got out of the car, Mrs. Henderson was within five feet of the shrubbery, and she saw that the ground around the shrubbery was covered in pine straw. She saw no ground next to the car that was free of pine straw, and given that she had just seen Lee and his wife leave their car and walk into the church, she assumed it was safe to step on the pine straw. After she had closed the car door, Mrs. Henderson walked no more than a few steps before stepping in a hole and falling, suffering a spiral fracture of her leg.

Lee testified that the shrubbery at issue had been planted approximately one month earlier, and the hole in which Henderson fell was actually a trench that had been dug around the landscaping in an effort to keep it watered. At the time of Henderson's fall, the trench was not visible because it was covered in pine straw and leaves, and it was not marked in any way. The Hendersons had never parked in the same place before, and Lee admitted that he did not inform Georgia Henderson about the trench and that she could not have known about the presence of the trench before she fell in it.

St. Paul moved for summary judgment, arguing that the church could not be held

Page 536

liable for Mrs. Henderson's injuries as a matter of law because those injuries occurred when Georgia Henderson deviated from the designated route to the front of the church and instead attempted to take a shortcut " through [a] flower bed" to reach the side entrance of the church. The ...


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