Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Harvey et al. v. Merchan
For a brief time period, OCGA 9-3-33.1 allowed time-barred civil claims for childhood sexual abuse to be revived. During that time period, Joy Caroline Harvey Merchan sued her parents, Walter Jackson Harvey, Jr., and Carole Allyn Hill Harvey, under the revival provision of the statute for damages resulting from alleged childhood sexual abuse that occurred decades prior to the filing of the action, principally in Quebec, Canada. The Harveys moved dismiss and for summary judgment, arguing that Merchan’s claims were time-barred and could not be revived. Alternatively, the Harveys argued the revival provision of the Act violated Georgia’s constitutional ban on retroactive laws and the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions. The trial court largely denied the Harveys’ motions, and the Georgia Supreme Court granted interlocutory review to decide: (1) whether Georgia or Quebec law applied to Merchan’s claims; (2) whether OCGA 9-3-33.1 could revive a cause of action for acts that did not occur in Georgia; and (3) whether Georgia’s constitutional ban on retroactive laws and the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions would bar Merchan’s pursuit of such a cause of action against her parents. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded: (1) Georgia substantive law applied to those torts committed in state, while Quebec substantive law applied to the torts committed there; (2) Georgia’s limitations period applied to torts committed in state, but for torts committed in Quebec, the trial court had to determine in the first instance which limitations period was shorter, and the shorter period would control. Merchan could pursue a cause of action for acts that occurred in Quebec as well as Georgia, because OCGA 9-3-33.1’s definition of childhood sexual abuse was broad enough to cover acts that occurred outside of Georgia. "And such a result does not violate Georgia’s constitutional ban on retroactive laws or the Harveys’ due process or equal protection rights. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in part, vacate it in part, and remand the case for the trial court to compare the respective limitations periods." View "Harvey et al. v. Merchan" on Justia Law
Star Residential, LLC et al. v. Hernandez
Manuel Hernandez was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants as he approached the doorway to his apartment. Hernandez filed suit against the owner of the apartment complex, Terraces at Brookhaven, and the operator of the complex, Star Residential, LLC (collectively “Star Residential”), asserting, among other things, a nuisance claim under the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (the “Gang Act”). Hernandez claimed that he was entitled to treble damages (i.e., three times the actual damages he sustained in the shooting) and punitive damages under OCGA 16-15-7(c) because his injuries occurred as a result of a criminal street gang creating a public nuisance on Star Residential’s property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Star Residential's motion to dismiss, holding, in relevant part, that whether to hold a property owner liable under OCGA 16-15-7(c) of the Gang Act for maintaining a public nuisance was always a question for the factfinder to decide, and not for the court. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Star Residential’s petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly construed the civil liability provision of OCGA 16-15-7(c). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute was incorrect: "there is nothing in the language of subsection (c) to indicate that the General Assembly intended for a jury to usurp the judiciary’s role of determining the meaning of the statute at issue. ... This means only that, once a legally appropriate cause of action is submitted to the factfinder for decision, that factfinder must be instructed on the legislative intent codified in OCGA 16-15-2 in order to determine if the circumstances of the case warrant the imposition of liability under OCGA 16-15-7(c). The statute simply does not say that a factfinder must determine the meaning of subsection (c) in the first instance, which is a role reserved for the courts." View "Star Residential, LLC et al. v. Hernandez" on Justia Law
Gatto et al. v. City of Statesboro et al.
Michael and Katherine Gatto filed suit against the City of Statesboro and City Clerk Sue Starling, alleging negligence and maintenance of a nuisance, after their son, Michael, died following an altercation at a bar in the University Plaza area of the City. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, based in part on sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the City, solely on the ground of sovereign immunity. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to address municipal immunity in the context of a nuisance claim. The Court held that the Citywasis immune from liability for the conduct alleged here, because municipalities never faced liability for a nuisance claim based on alleged conduct related to property they neither owned nor controlled, and "nothing in our Constitution alters that principle." Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Gatto et al. v. City of Statesboro et al." on Justia Law
Williams v. Harvey et al.
Rubin Harvey, while driving a dump truck in the course of his employment with Oxford Construction Company, collided with a tractor driven by Johnny Williams, causing severe injuries to Williams. After Oxford conceded liability, a jury returned a general verdict for $18 million. Defendants appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although defendants did not make a contemporaneous objection, Williams’s counsel made an improper and prejudicial statement in closing argument that clearly violated the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motion in limine. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Williams’s petition for certiorari to address whether a party must object to argument of counsel that allegedly violates a granted motion in limine in order to preserve the issue for appeal. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Williams v. Harvey et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Avis Rent-A-Car System, LLC
Two cases consolidated for review by the Georgia Supreme Court arose from a car accident that happened after Byron Perry stole a sport utility vehicle (SUV) from a rental lot where he worked and later crashed into Brianna Johnson and Adrienne Smith while Perry was trying to evade police. Plaintiffs Johnson and Smith each filed a lawsuit alleging claims of negligence and vicarious liability against the rental car company, Avis Rent A Car System, LLC and Avis Budget Group (collectively “Avis”), along with Avis’s regional security manager, Peter Duca, Jr.; the rental location’s operator, CSYG, Inc.; and CSYG’s owner, Yonas Gebremichael. Johnson and Smith also sued Perry, the CSYG employee who stole the SUV involved in the accident, although Johnson dismissed Perry before trial. Separate juries found that Johnson and Smith were entitled to recover damages, but both jury verdicts were reversed on appeal. The Court of Appeals concluded Avis, the only entity found liable for compensatory damages in Johnson’s case, was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict (JNOV) on Johnson’s direct negligence claims because Perry’s intervening criminal conduct was the proximate cause of Johnson’s injuries. In Smith’s case, the Court of Appeal concluded any breach of duty to secure the car rental lot and the stolen SUV was not the proximate cause of Smith’s injuries (due to Perry’s intervening criminal conduct), and CSYG and Gebremichael were entitled to a directed verdict on Smith’s claims that they negligently hired and retained Perry, because Perry was not acting “under color of employment” at the time that he collided with Smith. The Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the defendants could not be held liable to Johnson and Smith as a matter of law under the facts of these cases. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in both cases. View "Johnson v. Avis Rent-A-Car System, LLC" on Justia Law
Cham et al. v. ECI Management Corp. et al.
Plaintiffs, the surviving spouse of Franklin Callens and the administrator of his estate, sued defendants, the owner and manager of an apartment complex where Callens was killed during an armed robbery. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were negligent in failing adequately to secure their premises from criminal activity. Defendants prevailed at trial, and Plaintiffs appealed, contending, in relevant part, that the trial court erred in giving a jury instruction on the law applicable to “licensees” in premises liability cases. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment on that issue. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review on the issue of whether the trial court erred in charging the jury on what duty a landowner owed a licensee, when there was evidence showing that plaintiffs' decedent was a guest of a lawful tenant of the landowner. The Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in charging the jury, and therefore affirmed the appellate and trial courts. View "Cham et al. v. ECI Management Corp. et al." on Justia Law
Oconee County v. Cannon et al.
Ronald and Christy Cannon sued Oconee County, Georgia after a vehicle chase initiated by an Oconee County sheriff’s deputy ended in their daughter’s death. The trial court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment, holding that: (1) the Sheriff of Oconee County in his official capacity, not the County, was liable for the deputy’s actions; and (2) the Cannons could not substitute the Oconee County Sheriff in his official capacity as the defendant in place of Oconee County because the statute of limitations had expired and the relation-back doctrine embodied in OCGA 9-11-15 (c) did not apply. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination as to the proper defendant but reversed its ruling that relation-back did not apply. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the application of the relation-back doctrine depended on whether the proper defendant knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against him but for the plaintiff’s mistake, not on what the plaintiff knew or should have known and not on whether the plaintiff’s mistake was legal or factual. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded with direction for the trial court for application of the proper standard. View "Oconee County v. Cannon et al." on Justia Law
Atlanta Women’s Specialists, LLC et al. v. Trabue et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals in five appeals consolidated appeals for review to address two discrete issues – one related to pleading vicarious liability, and the other related to vicarious liability and apportionment. In August 2009, Keith Trabue’s wife, Shannon, suffered a catastrophic brain injury resulting from pulmonary edema leading to full cardiac arrest within days of giving birth to the couple’s daughter at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. At the hospital, Shannon was treated by physician-employees of Atlanta Women’s Specialists, LLC (AWS), including Dr. Stanley Angus and Dr. Rebecca Simonsen. Trabue and the bank serving as his wife’s conservator (Plaintiffs) later filed a medical malpractice action naming as defendants only Dr. Angus and AWS, although the complaint contained allegations regarding Dr. Simonsen’s conduct and alleged that AWS was vicariously responsible for the acts and omissions of both Dr. Angus and Dr. Simonsen. The complaint did not allege any independent acts of negligence on the part of AWS. At a two-week trial in 2017, after the close of the evidence, Dr. Angus and AWS, asked the court to require the jury to assess the percentages of fault of Dr. Angus and Dr. Simonsen and to apportion the damages between Dr. Angus and AWS under OCGA 51-12-33 (b). The Supreme Court asked the parties to brief two questions: (1) Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the plaintiffs sufficiently pled a claim for vicarious liability against AWS based on the conduct of Dr. Simonsen?; and (2) Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that, to obtain apportionment of damages with regard to the negligence of Dr. Simonsen, the defendants were required to comply with OCGA 51-12-33 (d) by filing a pretrial notice of nonparty fault? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the negative and affirmed the Court of Appeals’ judgment. View "Atlanta Women's Specialists, LLC et al. v. Trabue et al." on Justia Law
Quynn v Hulsey et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this wrongful death and personal injury case to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred by holding that TriEst Ag Group, Inc., the employer of the driver whose truck struck and killed the decedent, was entitled to summary judgment on the estate’s claims of negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision because TriEst admitted the applicability of respondeat superior and the estate was not entitled to punitive damages. The Supreme Court concluded OCGA 51-12-33 ("the apportionment statute") abrogated the decisional law rule on which the Court of Appeals relied in affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Quynn v Hulsey et al." on Justia Law
Johns, et al. v. Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., et al.
Adrien Johns was seriously injured in August 2013 when the front brake on his Suzuki motorcycle failed suddenly. He sued the designer and manufacturer of the motorcycle, Suzuki Motor Corporation, and its wholly-owned subsidiary and American distributor, Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. (collectively, “Suzuki”), asserting a claim of strict products liability based on a design defect and two negligence claims (breach of a continuing duty to warn and negligent recall). Adrien’s wife, Gwen Johns, also sued Suzuki, alleging loss of consortium. At trial, the Johnses presented evidence showing that the brake failure of Adrien’s motorcycle was caused by a defect in the design of the front master brake cylinder that created a corrosive condition, which resulted in a “leak path” that misdirected the flow of brake fluid and caused the total brake failure. About two months after Adrien’s accident, Suzuki issued a recall notice warning about a safety defect in the front brake master cylinder. Suzuki had notice of the issue, including reports of similar accidents, for a significant amount of time before Adrien’s accident. Adrien admitted, that contrary to the instructions in the owner’s manual to replace the brake fluid every two years, he had not changed the fluid during the eight years he had owned the motorcycle. The jury found in favor of the Johnses on all claims. Because the damages after apportionment were less than the Johnses’ pretrial demand of $10 million, the trial court rejected the Johnses’ request for pre-judgment interest under OCGA 51-12-14 (a). The Johnses cross-appealed, arguing that because their claim was based on strict products liability, the trial court erred in reducing the damages awards based on OCGA 51-12-33 (a), and therefore also erred in failing to award them pre-judgment interest. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to decide whether OCGA 51-12-33 (a) applied to a strict products liability claim under OCGA 51-1-11. The Court of Appeals held that strict products liability claims were subject to such apportionment. To this, the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Johns, et al. v. Suzuki Motor of America, Inc., et al." on Justia Law