Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals in the preceding case, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch, 793 SE2d 564 (2016), properly articulated the legal standard for when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence begins and properly applied that standard to the facts of this case. Like a defendant’s duty, a plaintiff’s duty to preserve relevant evidence in her control arises when that party actually anticipates or reasonably should anticipate litigation. Because the Court of Appeals appropriately identified and applied this standard, as did the trial court, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to examine whether the Court of Appeals improperly construed OCGA 16-11-135(e), which was part of the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act, as granting immunity “from firearm-related tort liability” to an employer who was sued for liability for the allegedly negligent acts of its employee under the theory of respondeat superior, and for the employer’s alleged negligent supervision. Appellant Claude Lucas sued appellee Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”) along with BCI’s employee Jeremy Wilson for injuries Lucas suffered when Wilson accidentally shot Lucas with a handgun. The accident occurred while Wilson was on the premises of BCI’s customer where he had driven his employer-owned vehicle to make a service call. In apparent violation of BCI’s policy prohibiting employees from transporting firearms while on company business, Wilson had taken a firearm with him on this service call. When he learned that a number of vehicles in the customer’s parking lot had been vandalized in recent days, he removed his gun from the vehicle and took it inside, where he accidentally fired it, injuring Lucas. Lucas filed his complaint, and following discovery, BCI filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that Wilson’s choice to take his firearm onto the client’s property was not within the scope of Wilson’s employment, and therefore BCI is not liable for these actions under a theory of respondeat superior; (2) that Lucas explicitly abandoned his claims for BCI’s negligent supervision; and (3) that OCGA 16-11-135(e) barred Lucas’s claims against BCI. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. On remand, the Court of Appeals was instructed to address Lucas’s assertion that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to BCI on his claims of liability under respondeat superior and for negligent supervision. View "Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

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High school student Antoine Williams tragically died after engaging in horseplay with another student while his teacher was out of their classroom. Antoine’s parents, appellants Jena Barnett and Marc Williams filed a complaint against Appellee Phyllis Caldwell, the teacher. They alleged that Caldwell was liable in her individual capacity for Antoine’s wrongful death because she had been negligent in supervising his classroom. The trial court granted Caldwell’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that she was entitled to official immunity because her acts were the product of discretionary decisions concerning the supervision of students. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that student supervision was not unalterably discretionary in all respects, but here, because the school’s policy was not so definite as to render Caldwell’s actions ministerial, therefore, she was entitled to official immunity. View "Barnett v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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High school student Antoine Williams tragically died after engaging in horseplay with another student while his teacher was out of their classroom. Antoine’s parents, appellants Jena Barnett and Marc Williams filed a complaint against Appellee Phyllis Caldwell, the teacher. They alleged that Caldwell was liable in her individual capacity for Antoine’s wrongful death because she had been negligent in supervising his classroom. The trial court granted Caldwell’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that she was entitled to official immunity because her acts were the product of discretionary decisions concerning the supervision of students. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that student supervision was not unalterably discretionary in all respects, but here, because the school’s policy was not so definite as to render Caldwell’s actions ministerial, therefore, she was entitled to official immunity. View "Barnett v. Caldwell" on Justia Law