Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

by
In 2014, Maria Matta-Troncoso and her husband, Mario Matta (“the Mattas”), sued Michael and Lakeisha Thornton, alleging that the Thorntons were liable under OCGA 51-2-71 for injuries that Matta-Troncoso sustained when the Thorntons’ dogs attacked her as she was walking her own dogs approximately two blocks away from the Thorntons’ rental house. The Mattas later amended their complaint by adding Gregory Tyner, the Thorntons’ landlord, alleging that he was liable under OCGA 44-7-142 for failing to keep the rental property in repair. Specifically, they alleged that Tyner failed to repair a broken gate latch that allowed the Thorntons’ dogs to escape the property and attack Matta-Troncoso. Tyner moved for summary judgment, and the trial court determined that although Tyner breached his duty to keep the premises in repair by failing to repair the broken gate latch, summary judgment was nevertheless warranted in his favor because the Mattas made no showing that the Thorntons’ dogs had ever displayed vicious propensities or that Tyner had knowledge of such tendencies. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, concluding the trial court erred in its analysis of whether Tyner had knowledge of the dogs’ vicious propensities. Citing OCGA 51-2-7, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because there was evidence that the dogs were unleashed in violation of a local ordinance, the Mattas were not required to produce evidence that “Tyner [was] aware of the dogs’ vicious propensities.” Furthermore, the appellate court concluded Tyner could be liable under OCGA 44-7-14 because that statute did not limit a landlord’s liability to injuries occurring on a leased premises, and that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Matta-Troncoso’s injuries “arose from” Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Tyner’s petition for certiorari to address a single question: Did the Court of Appeals err by reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Tyner? The Court answered that question in the affirmative, and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals. The Court determined there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch caused Matta-Troncoso’s injuries; summary judgment in Tyner’s favor was appropriate. View "Tyner v. Matta-Tronscoso" on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the insurer on the insured’s failure-to-settle claim. The Court also asked the parties to address whether an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits or whether, even absent such an offer, a duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that settlement within the insured’s policy limits is possible. As to this threshold issue, the Court concluded an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits. Applying the applicable rules of contract construction to correspondence from two injured parties in the instant case, the Court concluded the injured parties presented to the insurer a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits but that the offer did not include any deadline for accepting the offer. Based on the undisputed evidence, as a matter of law, the insurer did not act unreasonably in failing to accept the offer before it was withdrawn by the injured parties. As the insurer was entitled to summary judgment, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes" on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to resolve whether the trial court applied Georgia's forum non conveniens statute to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Georgia by Michigan residents against a Georgia corporation, instead of the foreign county where the underlying incident occurred. While vacationing in the Dominican Republic in 2014, Appellant Francis La Fontaine was injured in a fall from a collapsed zip-line at a course operated by Cumayasa Sky Adventures (CSA). She and her husband, Appellant Roberto Melendez, were Michigan residents and filed a tort action in Douglas County, Georgia against Appellee Signature Research, Inc. Appellee was a Georgia corporation that inspected and certified the zip-line course operated by CSA. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens saying it would submit to jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic and it would agree to extend the applicable statute of limitations period. Pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1, the trial court granted Appellee’s motion because the balance of private and public factors weighed in favor of adjudicating this matter in the Dominican Republic. The Supreme Court found that strictly construed OCGA 9-10-31.1 did not provide for dismissals of actions unless the claim should be moved to one of the other 49 states. The judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of Appellants’ action pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 was reversed. View "La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case to reconsider Hines v. Georgia Ports Authority, 604 SE2d 189 (2004), and more specifically, its holding that the Georgia Ports Authority was not an “arm of the state” and therefore, had no sovereign immunity from a lawsuit in a state court to recover damages under federal maritime law for the tort of a Ports Authority employee. The Court overruled Hines and concluded the Ports Authority was indeed an “arm of the state” and had sovereign immunity from lawsuits to recover damages under federal maritime law for the torts of its employees. View "Georgia Ports Authority v. Lawyer" on Justia Law

by
Joshua and Taylor Patterson became ill after eating food at a wedding rehearsal dinner prepared, catered, and served by Big Kev’s Barbeque. The Pattersons brought this action for negligence, violation of the Georgia Food Act (OCGA 26-2-20 et seq.), and products liability, alleging that the food at the dinner was defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared. After limited discovery, Big Kev’s moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Pattersons “are unable to show that their alleged food poisoning was proximately caused by Defendant.” The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether summary judgment for the defendant was properly granted. The Court of Appeals was “sharply” divided, yet granted summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause. The Supreme Court found that the standard that has developed over the years in the Court of Appeals has conflated cases at both the trial and summary judgment stages, thus creating the mistaken impression that food poisoning cases “are a unique species of negligence cases” imposing a heavier burden upon the plaintiff to show proximate cause than that generally required of nonmovants on summary judgment. “The appropriate legal standard on summary judgment, correctly applied to the facts of this case, shows that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause.” View "Patterson v. Kevon, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Appellees Sherinna McMann and Childrona Holton were passengers in a car traveling on the interstate in Bibb County, Georgia when allegedly an unknown driver swerved into their car's path, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. Appellant Eric Carpenter was allegedly driving too closely behind them and rear-ended the vehicle. Doe fled the scene and was never identified. Appellees sued Doe and Carpenter for negligence in Bibb County under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute in Bibb County pursuant to OCGA 33-7-11 (d)(1), which provided that “the residence of such ‘John Doe’ defendant shall be presumed to be in the county in which the accident causing injury or damages occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the plaintiff in the action.” Carpenter moved to transfer venue to Crawford County where he resided, but the trial court denied his motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Carpenter’s petition for certiorari, posing a single question: Does the venue provision of the uninsured motorist statute apply in a suit related to an automobile collision brought against a known Georgia resident and an unknown defendant under a joint tortfeasor theory? The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, and therefore affirmed. View "Carpenter v. McMann" on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals in Thomas v. Tenet HealthSystem GB, 796 SE2d 301 (2017), to consider whether that court properly held that a claim of imputed simple negligence against a hospital, which was asserted in a second amended complaint, related back to the original complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-15 (c). Finding that the Court of Appeals was correct, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Tenet HealthSystem GA, Inc. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
In a wrongful death lawsuit involving Georgia law, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. In September 1992, Delia Bibbs was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a head injury that left her in a coma. A few months after the accident, she filed, through her husband, a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. The case was tried by a jury, but before it returned a verdict, Bibbs and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement, which guaranteed some recovery for Bibbs in the event of a verdict for Toyota, but limited Toyota’s exposure in the event of a verdict for Bibbs. The jury returned a verdict for Bibbs, awarding substantial damages, including more than $400,000 for past medical expenses, $6 million for future life care expenses, and $30 million for past and future pain and suffering. Within the next month, Toyota paid the amount required under the settlement agreement, and Bibbs executed a written release that incorporated the settlement agreement. Expressly excluded from the release was “any claim for Delia Bibbs’ wrongful death, inasmuch as Delia Bibbs has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].” Also in connection with the settlement, Bibbs dismissed her personal injury lawsuit with prejudice. More than 20 years later, Bibbs died, Together with her surviving children, Bibbs’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota, seeking damages for the full value of her life. The case was removed to federal district court, and Toyota filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Under Georgia law, the federal court asked whether the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action brought by survivors of a decedent limited by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a previous personal injury suit settling all claims that were or could have been asserted in that suit. If the answer was yes, what components of wrongful death damages were barred? The Georgia Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, and in response to the second question, explained that damages recovered or recoverable in an earlier personal injury lawsuit could not be recovered again in a wrongful death suit. View "Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Candice Reis and Melvin Williams appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“OOIDA”) in a direct action against OOIDA and others arising from a vehicular collision involving Plaintiffs and a motor carrier insured by OOIDA. At issue was whether provisions in the federal Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986 (“the LRRA”), 15 USC 3901, et seq., preempted Georgia’s motor carrier and insurance carrier direct action statutes, OCGA sections 40-1-112 (c),1 40-2-140 (d) (4), in regard to risk retention groups, thereby precluding this direct action against OOIDA. After review of the statutes at issue here, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was indeed federal preemption of this action against OOIDA, and consequently, affirmed summary judgment. View "Reis et al. v. OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

by
In 2012, Bryan Harrell was driving his pickup truck at more than 50 miles per hour when he rear-ended the 1999 Jeep in which four-year-old Remington Walden was a rear-seat passenger, with his aunt behind the wheel. The impact left Harrell and Remington’s aunt unhurt, but fractured Remington’s femur. The impact also caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted gas tank to rupture and catch fire. Remington burned to death trying to escape; he lived for up to a minute as he burned, and witnesses heard him screaming. Remington’s parents (“Appellees”) sued both Chrysler and Harrell for wrongful death. At trial, in March and April of 2015, Appellees challenged the Jeep’s vehicle design, arguing that Chrysler should not have used a rear-mounted fuel tank. When questioning Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Mark Chernoby at trial, Appellees’ counsel asked about the CEO’s salary, bonus, and benefits; Marchionne himself was never questioned about his income and benefits. The trial court overruled Chrysler’s repeated relevance and wealth-of-a-party objections to this line of questioning. Appellees’ counsel referenced Marchionne’s compensation testimony again in closing, arguing, “what [Chrysler’s counsel] said Remi’s life was worth, Marchionne made 43 times as much in one year.” The jury determined that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failed to warn of the hazard that killed Remington. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal discussed admission of CEO compensation, holding “evidence of a witness’s relationship to a party is always admissible” and that the CEO’s compensation “made the existence of [the CEO’s] bias in favor of Chrysler more probable.” The Georgia Supreme Court held not that compensation evidence is always admissible to show the bias of an employee witness, or that it is never admissible, but that such evidence is subject to the Rule 403 analysis weighing the evidence’s unfair prejudice against its probative value. Because Chrysler did not raise a Rule 403 objection to the compensation evidence at issue in this appeal, the Supreme Court considered the question not under the ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard, but as a question of plain error. The Court concluded that under the particular circumstances of this case, it could not say that the prejudicial effect of the evidence so far outweighed its probative value that its admission was clear and obvious reversible error. Accordingly, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the rationale of the Court of Appeals, it ultimately affirmed its judgment. View "Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden" on Justia Law