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Sanchez v. Atlanta Union Mission Corp.

Court of Appeals of Georgia

September 25, 2014

SANCHEZ
v.
ATLANTA UNION MISSION CORPORATION

Negligence. Fulton State Court. Before Judge Tailor.

Daryl Von Yokely, for appellant.

Mabry & McClelland, Jon D. Stewart, Jr., for appellee.

BARNES, Presiding Judge. Branch, J., concurs. Boggs, J., concurs in judgment only.

OPINION

Page 179

Barnes, Presiding Judge.

Wilfredo Sanchez filed this negligence action against Atlanta Union Mission Corporation (the " Atlanta Mission" ) after he was injured while carrying out a work assignment as part of a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Atlanta Mission moved for summary judgment on the ground that a contractual exculpatory clause allegedly agreed to by Sanchez when he enrolled in the rehabilitation program waived and released it from liability for its own negligence. The trial court granted Atlanta Mission's motion for summary judgment based on the exculpatory clause, resulting in this appeal. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Atlanta Mission failed to prove the terms of the exculpatory clause and thus failed to prove that Sanchez waived and released it from liability. Accordingly, we reverse.

To prevail on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the undisputed facts, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law. And a defendant moving for summary judgment based on an affirmative defense may not rely upon an absence of evidence in the record disproving the affirmative defense.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Porex Corp. v. Haldopoulos, 284 Ga.App. 510, 511 (644 S.E.2d 349) (2007). See OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). Consequently, the burden was on Atlanta

Page 180

Mission to come forward with evidence establishing that Sanchez's negligence claim was barred by a contractual exculpatory clause waiving and releasing it from liability. See Porex Corp., 284 Ga.App. at 511. See also OCGA § 9-11-8 (c) (release is an affirmative defense); Stockbridge Dental [329 Ga.App. 159] Group v. Freeman, 316 Ga.App. 274, 275 (728 S.E.2d 871) (2012) (referring to defenses based on exculpatory clause as affirmative defenses).

Construed in the light most favorable to Sanchez as the nonmovant, the record reflects that from April 2010 through early August 2010, Sanchez was a resident at the Atlanta Mission and participated in its substance abuse rehabilitation program. As part of his participation in the program, Sanchez was required to take classes and perform work assignments on a daily basis.

On June 8, 2010, Sanchez was assigned to disassemble and move steel-framed hospital beds from the main floor into the basement at the Carpenter House, a building owned by the Atlanta Mission. According to Sanchez, the basement where his work crew was required to move the beds was dark and flooded with water. Sanchez testified that he was not given a light or any safety equipment while working in the basement and was never provided any instructions regarding how to safely move the beds, which were old and very heavy. While performing his work assignment, Sanchez was struck by a headboard from a hospital bed, causing him to sustain head and neck injuries and to require hospitalization for several days. Sanchez ultimately left the rehabilitation program because he was unable to attend classes or perform his work assignments as a result of continued severe pain.

Sanchez subsequently brought this negligence action seeking damages for his injuries from Atlanta Mission. Following discovery, Atlanta Mission moved for summary judgment, contending that before Sanchez was admitted into its rehabilitation program, he was required to sign a form entitled " My Commitment to the Personal Development Program" (the " Personal Development Agreement" ). Although the two copies of the Personal Development Agreement introduced into the record were blurry and difficult to read, Atlanta Mission claimed that the third and ninth paragraphs of the agreement contained an exculpatory clause waiving and releasing ...


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