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Rogers v. Woodruff

Court of Appeals of Georgia

July 15, 2014


Premises liability. Carroll State Court. Before Judge Sullivan.

Beck, Owen & Murray, Charles D. Jones, for appellant.

Commander Pound Butler, Scott C. Commander , Lori E. Jolly, for appellee.

DILLARD, Judge. Doyle, P. J., and Miller, J., concur in judgment only.


Dillard, Judge.

In this interlocutory appeal, Janice D. Rogers challenges the trial court's denial of her motion for summary judgment on Cory Woodruff's personal-injury claims related to an incident that occurred at Rogers's home when a deck railing gave way and Woodruff fell to the concrete below, resulting in serious injuries. On appeal, Rogers argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth infra, we agree and reverse.

Page 853

Viewed in the light most favorable to Woodruff,[1] the nonmovant, the record reflects that on the night of July 20, 2008, Woodruff was a social guest at the home of Janice Rogers. More specifically, Woodruff, who was then a college student at the University of West Georgia, was visiting with Rogers's daughter, Kelly, also a student, at Kelly's apartment located above her parents' detached garage. It is undisputed that Janice Rogers purchased the property in 2006, and the stairway and deck leading up to the apartment over the detached [328 Ga.App. 311] garage were built in 1996 by the property's previous owner, who was a residential builder and who swore by affidavit that the county inspected the improvements not long after construction.

Earlier on the day in question, Woodruff and Kelly visited her parents who were away from home, camping overnight at a lake. But after this visit, Woodruff and Kelly went back to her apartment and got ready to go out to a bar in nearby downtown Carrollton. Along with another friend, Deanna Echols, Woodruff and Kelly made their way to the bar, where they danced and consumed alcoholic beverages until approximately 2:30 a.m. The amount of alcohol that Woodruff consumed both before and after arriving at the bar is hotly disputed, with Woodruff claiming that he imbibed only two drinks at the bar and nothing before and others testifying that Woodruff consumed multiple alcoholic beverages at the bar, including up to four shots of liquor, and that he consumed liquor at the apartment before heading out for the evening.

What is undisputed is that while at the bar, the trio of friends ran into Devan Hayes, whom Woodruff and Kelly knew from school and who was working as a bouncer that night. And although Kelly considered Woodruff a close friend, Woodruff had deeper feelings for Kelly and became visibly upset over the course of the evening as she increasingly directed her attention toward Hayes. Indeed, at one point after 2:00 a.m., an emotionally distraught Woodruff telephoned his father from the bar's parking lot because he was so grieved by the situation (particularly because Woodruff believed Hayes had treated girls poorly in the past).

Not long after this call, Kelly, Echols, and Hayes found Woodruff in the parking lot and, before heading back to the apartment, Kelly invited Hayes to join them there after he was done working. It is again highly disputed as to how much alcohol Woodruff consumed upon returning to the apartment, with Woodruff denying that he had anything alcoholic to drink, and Kelly, Echols, and Hayes (who arrived at 3:30 a.m.) all testifying that Woodruff, although already highly intoxicated, continued to imbibe multiple shots and mixed drinks. The tenor between Hayes and Woodruff at this point is also disputed, with Kelly and Echols contending that Woodruff was an out-of-control drunk who was openly hostile toward Hayes, and both Hayes and Woodruff contending that the two were on much more congenial terms.

Nevertheless, although the atmosphere surrounding the decision to do so is disputed, it is undisputed that Hayes and Woodruff went outside of the apartment after 4:00 a.m. According to Woodruff, he wanted to discuss how Hayes should treat Kelly. And because Kelly's apartment was located above her parents' garage, it was [328 Ga.App. 312] accessible only by an exterior stairway with a somewhat spacious deck landing at the top entrance to the abode. Hayes and Woodruff were on this landing when the incident causing Woodruff's injuries occurred, while Kelly and Echols remained inside the apartment.

According to Kelly and Echols, Woodruff and Hayes were outside only briefly before the women heard loud voices, saw and heard Hayes get slammed up against the door, and then heard another loud sound that, upon exiting the apartment, they surmised must have been Woodruff falling through the deck railing to the ground below. Woodruff, on the other hand, testified that while he could recall nothing after he hit ...

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