Traver v. Felton Manor, LLC

Elderly Care Home Can Be Held Liable for Automatic Door That Struck Resident and Caused Him to Fall


In the case of Traver v. Felton Manor, LLC, the trial court granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of the Defendant in a premises liability claim arising from an injury at an elderly care home. Plaintiff appealed the order, alleging genuine issues of material fact. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, finding genuine issues of material fact.

The Defendant, Felton Manor, is an elderly care home licensed in Georgia. Its residents’ ages range from 70 to 104 years old. While many of the residents live independently, most of them require mobility devices. Even with the devices, they move slowly. A former executive director described them as “frail elderly people” who cannot move safely without support.

In 2015, the Defendant installed automatic hinged doors at the most-used entrance. Residents activated the doors by pressing the button, and the doors opened outward. The doors remained open for a few seconds before closing inward.

However, the doors did not contain sensors that would keep them open if someone was still in the doorway. If a resident were in the way, the door would bind up against them and stay there unless the resident pushed the door back.

The Defendant could adjust the force of these doors so they would not knock anyone over. A maintenance worker tested the pressure on himself, finding the doors were not excessively forceful. He also testified he is six feet three inches tall and weighs 385 pounds. The Defendant did not test the doors using any other method or adjust them further after installation.

The Plaintiff, Richard Baney, was a 91-year-old resident of Felton Manor. The former executive director testified he walked in a “shuffly” manner, much like other residents. He used a rollator, which is a wheeled mobility assistance device.

In July 2017, Baney decided to go for a walk. He visited the main entrance and activated the automatic doors. After he pressed the button, another resident asked him the time, and they chatted briefly. He exited the doorway, and the door hit him after he crossed the threshold. He fell and broke his hip.

Baney underwent surgery and related treatments. He never resumed his normal activities and suffered pain and medical issues until he passed away in August 2018.

After the accident, the Defendant installed a sensor on the doors.

When Baney passed away, his estate substituted as the Plaintiff. The administrator, Virginia Traver, continued the lawsuit as the estate’s administrator.

The Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, alleging it did not have any actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard causing Baney’s fall. It also alleged that he failed to exercise ordinary care with the doors by stopping to converse with another resident. The trial court granted the motion, and the Plaintiff appealed.

Issues and Holdings

The issues in this case were:

  1. Did a genuine issue of material fact exist regarding whether the Defendant knew about the hazard posed by the doors?
  2. Did a genuine issue of material fact exist regarding whether the Defendant’s knowledge of the potential hazard was superior to the Baney’s knowledge?
  3. Did a genuine issue of material fact exist regarding whether Baney exercised ordinary care for his safety?

The court ruled:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes


The Plaintiff mentioned two areas where there were genuine issues of material fact: the Defendant’s knowledge of the potentially hazardous nature of the doors and whether Baney exercised ordinary care for his safety. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals divided its analysis into three issues and concluded they were for the jury to decide—not the court.

Defendant’s Knowledge of the Potential Hazard

Defendant’s knowledge regarding the risk of the doors arises from their duties to their residents. As a care home, the residents are invitees, and the Defendant needed to exercise ordinary care to keep its premises safe. That includes assessing unreasonable risks and inspecting its premises to find them. Traver, 365 Ga. App. at 157.

The Court of Appeals agreed the Defendant owed this duty to Baney and that there were genuine issues of material fact that should have survived summary judgment. It cited the following evidence to support this conclusion:

  • The Defendant authorized installing the doors and, presumably, knew of their existence and how they worked.
  • The Defendant knew it was likely that the residents, given their ages, mobility limitations, and use of walking aids, could sustain an injury from the doors—especially since they worked on a timer rather than a sensor.
  • Staff members encouraged slower-moving residents to “hurry up” to avoid being hit by doors.
  • During warmer months, staff calibrated doors to stay open for seven to 10 seconds, showing the Defendant had control of the timer.
  • A maintenance worker explained, “that if a resident went through the door with a wheelchair or walker, and they were very, very slow, then it’s possible that [the] door[s] could have come back on them.” He added, “[b]ased on the timing, … [i]f someone doesn’t move, it’s going to shut on them.” Traver, 365 Ga. App. at 158.
  • The Defendant knew that if the doors closed on an individual, they’d bind up against them and keep them there unless they pushed on the doors
  • The Defendant was aware that if the force of the doors was too high, and they shut on a resident, it would keep pulling on them.
  • The Defendant did not test the doors against someone with the stature, strength, or agility of their residents–only its maintenance worker.
  • A former executive director testified that the Defendant cares for a frail population who “don’t need falls,” and the doors shouldn’t touch anyone while in use.

Superior Knowledge

The Plaintiff initially pled knowledge as one issue, but the Court of Appeals divided that issue into the knowledge of the hazard and the Defendant’s superior knowledge. Felton Manor argued that Baney’s knowledge was superior to the Defendant’s as he used the doors and knew they would open automatically and close at some point.

However, the Court of Appeals saw this differently. While it is true that Baney knew how the doors operated, he would not know precisely how long they stayed open. The Defendant set the door timer and calibrated the force of the doors as they closed. So, while Baney could generally know of a potential hazard, a jury could decide that the Defendant had superior knowledge because they performed the adjustments and maintenance.  Traver, 365 Ga. App. at 159.

Plaintiff’s Exercise of Ordinary Care

The Defendant brought up two facts to show Baney lacked ordinary care: He stopped to converse with another resident before proceeding, and he used the doors successfully before his accident. However, the Plaintiff argued that a jury could reasonably conclude that Baney exercised ordinary care and that his prior successful use of the doors did not warrant summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals did not see any plain and palpable evidence that Baney lacked ordinary care. While he stopped to talk to the other resident, he did not stand there for a long time. He crossed the door’s threshold at the time they hit him. Traver, 365 Ga. App. at 160.

Also, the standard regarding the previous successful negotiation of a hazard does not apply to this case. It applies to cases involving a readily discernable static condition. There was no evidence on record showing that Barney could have seen the hazard that caused his fall. Especially since there was no evidence sugging that:

  • Baney was aware of the specific amount of time doors stayed open.
  • Baney knew the doors would not reopen when they touched him.
  • Baney knew the doors could knock him down.

While the Court was unwilling to assess cognitive ability, it pointed out that Baney, like other residents, had dementia. So, there was a fact question on whether Baney fully appreciated the risk of not exiting immediately after the doors opened.


Traver serves as a reminder that premises liability cases are very fact dependent. If there is anything unique about the conditions or the Plaintiff, document those thoroughly in the trial court record to survive a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Appellate Court seemed persuaded that these doors posed a particular danger since they operated at a care home with older adults, and the evidence was sufficient to allow a jury to decide whether the Defendant breached its duty of care.

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Citation: Traver v. Felton Manor, LLC, 877 S.E.2d 688 (Ga. Ct. App. Aug. 23, 2022)

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.