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Action for damages. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Etheridge.
Where in a suit for injury sustained from the collapse of a bed in the defendant's hotel, there was some evidence from which a jury might find that the bed was defective and that such defect could or should have been discovered by a reasonable inspection, a jury question was presented, and the trial judge erred in directing a verdict for the defendant.
Victor Palagano filed a complaint against the Georgian Terrace Hotel Company in Fulton Superior Court. The plaintiff alleged that he received certain injuries as a result of a bed falling to the floor; that this occurred while he was a paying guest in a hotel maintained by the defendant; that the bed was located in the room in which he was staying. The defendant answered, denying that any act or omission on its part caused the alleged injuries.
The case duly came on for trial and at the close of the plaintiff's evidence the defendant made a motion for directed verdict in its favor. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court granted the defendant's motion. Appeal was taken from the order granting the motion and the entering of judgment in the action.
The events adduced on the trial may be summarized as follows. The plaintiff, a Post Office employee, came to Atlanta for the purpose of attending a seminar arranged by his employer, the United States Post Office. He checked into the hotel of the defendant and was assigned Room 522. Late in the evening around Il he started to prepare for bed. He was sitting on the bed with one foot raised, removing his socks, when the bed collapsed and he fell backwards. An acquaintance, Gene Kobyrn, of the plaintiff was in another room, heard the commotion and came to the plaintiff's room. This acquaintance assisted the plaintiff.
The plaintiff gave the following account of the condition of the bed after its collapse: "Q. Mr. Palagano, if you would restrain from mentioning what Mr. Kobyrn said, you just tell what you saw him do and what you did. What did you say to him? A. Well, he tried to pick the bed up and he stuck a nail in his finger. Q. Now where were the nails? A. The nails were sticking out along the slats or the boards, or whatever you want to call them, about a half inch because I could see the shiny part of the nail. Q. Now this strip of wood that you mentioned, did it go the long side of the bed rail? A. It went the length of the bed I believe. Q. Was it loose from the bed rail? A. It came loose, it was laying on the floor. Q. Now about how much of the pointed end of the nail was through the wood? A. Well, the shiny part I would say was about half an inch. Q. Did you look at the other side where the nail would be? A. The nail head was rusted, it was not all the way, it was away from the board. Q. The portion that was away from the board, was that also rusty? A. Yes, sir. It was an old nail. Q. How many nails did you see in that strip? A. I didn't take a good look at it, but I remember about two or three or four, I'm not sure. I believe two nails is about all I looked at. Q. Was the strip broken in two or was it just pulled loose? A. It was pulled loose."
Mr. Kobyrn gave this account of the bed's condition: "Q. What did you observe about the bed? A. Well, as I approached the bed I noticed that the bed post had fell off and there were nails. Q. Which end of the bed was that? A. Well, it would have been the foot of the bed. Q. You mentioned something about nails. Where were the nails? A. Well, they were driven in the bed post and they protruded out the other side into the bed rail. Q. Did you make any observation as to how far they protruded out of the bed post into the bed rail? A. Well, I believe I did remark to him, I said that I didn't see how this bed could have stayed together because of the nails being so short. Q. How short would you say they were? A. I'd say half an inch. Q. How many nails would you say were in each post? A. Well, I couldn't remember, I don't know exactly. I would say, I could say two for sure. I could say two for sure that I observed. It could have been four. Q. Can you give us a reasonable estimate if you can? A. I'd say two. l say I am sure of two. Q. Are you sure of two? A. Yes."
Routine inspections of the defendant's rooms had been made by the manager, maintenance man and housekeeper.
The manager of the hotel testified that at least once a week one section of the hotel was checked; that in doing so he looked under the beds. Both he and the maintenance man testified that there had been other instances of beds collapsing.
In ruling upon the facts of this case the following principles are applicable: "It is error to direct a verdict, except where there is no conflict in the evidence introduced as to the material facts, and the evidence introduced together with all reasonable deductions or inferences therefrom demands a particular verdict [citations omitted]. And a verdict should not be directed unless there is no issue of fact, or unless the proved facts, viewed from every possible legal point of view, can sustain no other finding than that directed." Norris v. Coffee, 206 Ga. 759 (4) (58 SE2d 812). See McDuffie v. Lummus Cotton-Gin Co., 13 Ga. App. 591 (79 SE 493). "In determining this question the evidence must be construed in its light most favorable to the party against whom it was directed." Curry v. Durden, 103 Ga. App. 371 (1) (118 SE2d 871).
"The question of a violation of 'the duty to exercise ordinary care to afford [guests] premises that are reasonably safe for use and occupancy,' which is the duty an innkeeper owes his guests, is a question of negligence and this court is bound by the rule that such matters are for the jury except in plain, palpable and indisputable cases. Code 81-304, catchword 'Negligence.' Further, the innkeeper has a duty to inspect and is liable for such injuries caused by defects as would be disclosed by a reasonable inspection." Hillinghorst v. Heart of Atlanta Motel, 104 Ga. App. 731, 735 (122 SE2d 751). See Johnson v. John Deere Plow Co., 214 Ga. 645, 647 (106 SE2d 901). In discussing a situation where inspection might be "impracticable, if not impossible," in Fulton Ice &c. Co. v. Pece, 29 Ga. App. 507, 517 (116 SE 57), this court held: "If ordinary care requires an inspection, it requires that inspection even if it may be difficult. The difficulty of the inspection does not determine the degree of care, but the degree of care may determine the extent of the inspection. In other words, to say that one should make an inspection, however difficult it may be, does not impose a higher degree of care than ordinary care, provided that to the extent of such care the inspection was required. If ordinary diligence demands an inspection, then the difficulty of making that inspection, however great, will not enlarge the degree of diligence which the law requires." Moreover, "Where the owner of the building is shown to have made inspection of the building for the purpose of discovering defects therein, he is chargeable with notice of any defects which should have been discovered by the exercise of ordinary care and diligence." Home Owners Loan Corp. v. Brazzeal, 62 Ga. App. 683 (6) (9 SE2d 773). See Indian Springs Swimming Pool Corp. v. Maddox, 70 Ga. App. 842, 845 (29 SE2d 724); Hotel Richmond v. Wilkinson, 73 Ga. App. 36 (35 SE2d 536); Rothberg v. Bradley, 85 Ga. App. 477 (69 SE2d 293).
Here, although there was evidence that the rooms and beds were inspected, still it was the province of the jury to determine whether such inspections were sufficient to fulfill the defendant's duty owed to the plaintiff.
It is contended that there is no evidence to show that the bed was defective, citing Quick Shops v. Oldham, 100 Ga. App. 551, 556 (111 SE2d 920); Central of Ga. R. Co. v. Lester, 118 Ga. App. 794, 799 (165 SE2d 587).
There was testimony which has been quoted in the statement of fact regarding nails in the rail which were not driven flush and protruded out; that only about 112 inch of the pointed end of the nail extended out. An employee of the defendant who did the repair work on the beds stated that he used glue and screws and clamps to repair bedrails; and when asked if screws hold strips to the bedrail better than nails, he answered, "Yes, I would say it would hold it longer."
This was evidence from which a jury might find that the bed was defective and that such defect could or should have been discovered by a reasonable inspection.
Long, Weinberg, Ansley & Wheeler, Charles M. Goetz, Jr., for appellee.
Cullen M. Ward, Frank M. Eldridge, for appellant.
Friday May 22 16:07 EDT

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