Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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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

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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

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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

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Tomari Jackson drowned to death while on a school trip to Belize. His mother, Adell Forbes, individually and as administrator of Jackson’s estate (collectively, “Forbes”), filed a wrongful death action in Georgia. Because Forbes filed the action outside the applicable limitation period provided for under Belize law but within the period that would be applicable under Georgia law, the issue presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review entered on whether Georgia’s or Belize’s limitation period applied to that wrongful death action. The Court of Appeals held that Georgia law, and not Belize law, controlled the limitation period governing the wrongful death claim. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed. View "Auld v. Forbes" on Justia Law

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In the Fall of 2016, Lakenin Morris was driving his older cousin Keith Stroud’s car when he collided with a car driven by 18-year-old Alonzo Reid, sending Reid to the hospital. Morris had been drinking with Stroud, and Stroud asked Morris to drive his car and gave him the keys even though Morris was obviously drunk and Stroud knew that Morris was drunk, did not have a valid driver’s license, and had a habit of recklessness. Morris later pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI). Reid sued Morris for negligence and Stroud for negligent entrustment, and both were found liable for Reid’s injuries (Morris by default and Stroud by summary judgment). In a bench trial, the court awarded Reid more than $23,000 in compensatory damages, which the court apportioned equally between the two defendants, pursuant to the then-current version of the Georgia apportionment statute. The trial court also found that Morris and Stroud acted while under the influence of alcohol and further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that they acted in a manner that showed willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, and that “entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Reid challenged the amount of punitive damages he received. The Georgia Supreme Court found OCGA 51-12-5.1(f) did not categorically bar an award of punitive damages against Stroud, because the term “active tort-feasor,” as used in the statute, was not necessarily limited to drunk drivers. The trial court therefore erred in finding that it was categorically prohibited from considering whether Stroud was an “active tort-feasor” for purposes of analyzing the appropriateness of punitive damages under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated in part the trial court’s judgment, and remanded the case for the trial court: (1) to determine whether Stroud was intoxicated to the degree that his judgment was substantially impaired and whether he was an “active tort-feasor” within the meaning of OCGA 51-12-5.1(f); and (2) if so, to set the amount of punitive damages to be awarded against Stroud. View "Reid v. Morris et al." on Justia Law

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In late 2015, Michael Charnota was walking his dog “Katie,” who was leashed, in front of his residence in Paulding County, Georgia when a dog later identified as “Tucker” attacked and killed Katie. When Charnota carried Katie into his home, Tucker followed and attacked Charnota, seriously injuring him. Prior to the attack, Tucker had been kept on the premises of S&S Towing & Recovery, Ltd., which is located approximately 1,000 feet from Charnota’s residence and owned by Timothy and Paula Seals. On the day of the attack, Tucker had apparently escaped from the S&S Towing lot and was not on a leash or under the control of a person as required by the Paulding County Code. Charnota filed a complaint for damages against the Sealses, individually, and S&S Towing (collectively “S&S Towing”). Charnota asserted several causes of action, including a claim for liability under OCGA 51-2-7. The Georgia Supreme Court granted an interlocutory appeal in this case, expressing particular concern about whether the second sentence of OCGA 51-2-7, which provided that an animal running at large in violation of a local “leash law” was considered a “vicious” animal, violated procedural due process. On the facts of this case, the Court concluded that it did not, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "S&S Towing & Recovery, Ltd. v. Charnota" on Justia Law

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Rochelle Frett was injured when she slipped and fell at her place of employment during a scheduled lunch break. She filed a claim for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, but the State Board of Workers’ Compensation denied her claim. Frett appealed, and the superior court upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 178 SE 728 (1935), the Court of Appeals held that Frett suffered no injury compensable under the Act because she sustained her injury during a scheduled break, and her injury, therefore, did not arise out of her employment. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to reconsider Farr and reviewed the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case. The Supreme Court overruled Farr, and reversed the decision below. View "Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation" on Justia Law

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Shane Berryhill fainted and fell out of an 18-foot deer stand while hunting five days after undergoing major heart surgery. Plaintiffs Berryhill and his wife sued his surgeon, Dr. Dale Daly, and Savannah Cardiology (collectively “defendants”), claiming Daly’s negligent prescribing caused him to faint. The trial court instructed the jury on assumption of risk, and the jury returned a defense verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the instruction should not have been given. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and found there was at least slight evidence presented at trial to warrant the instruction: Berryhill knew he had just had major surgery for serious cardiac problems, and evidence (although contradicted) existed to show that he had been instructed not to engage in strenuous activity and not to lift more than ten pounds, bend, or stoop over for at least seven days after his procedure. Even though Berryhill was not informed of the specific risk of fainting, violating such explicit medical instructions immediately after major heart surgery "poses an obvious cardiovascular risk to which competent adults cannot blind themselves," and constituted the slight evidence needed here to warrant a jury instruction. Judgment was reversed. View "Daly v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Matthew Ragsdale filed this personal injury action against the Georgia Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) after he was injured during an October 31, 2014 motor vehicle accident that occurred when Ross Singleton, the driver of another vehicle, fled from law enforcement. Ragsdale sent an ante litem notice to the Department of Administrative Services (“DOAS”) on December 3, 2014. The notice provided on that date failed to include all the information required by OCGA 50-21-26 (a) (5). Ragsdale filed suit, but dismissed this initial filing based on the deficiency of his first ante litem notice. Thereafter, in March 2017, Ragsdale sent a second ante litem notice to DOAS. Ragsdale then renewed the action, and [DPS] filed its motion to dismiss the appeal, contending that the March 2017 ante litem notice was untimely. In response, Ragsdale argued that because he was the victim of Singleton’s crime, the time for filing the ante litem notice had been tolled “from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated” pursuant to OCGA 9-3-99. The trial court agreed and denied the motion to dismiss in a single-sentence order, citing Ragsdale's arguments in response to the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of DPS’s motion to dismiss, following cases in which that court had previously “determined that limitation period tolling statutes apply to the period for filing ante litem notice as well as for filing suit.” The Georgia Supreme Court found the Georgia Tort Claims Act's ante litem notice period was not subject to tolling under OCGA 9-3-99. View "Dept. of Public Safety v. Ragsdale" on Justia Law

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In a personal injury case, the trial court excluded the testimony of an expert defense witness, reasoning that the expert had “not [been] properly identified within the parameters of the scheduling order.” The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Georgia Supreme Court granted the defendant’s petition for a writ of certiorari to answer whether: (1) a trial court could exclude an expert witness solely because the witness was identified after the deadline set in a scheduling, discovery, and/or case management order; and (2) If not, what factors should a trial court consider when exercising its discretion whether to exclude an expert witness who was identified after the deadline set in a scheduling, discovery, and/or case management order? The Court concluded the answer to (1) was “no,” and with respect to (2), the Court concluded that when a trial court exercises its discretion in a civil case to determine whether to exclude a late-identified witness, it should consider: (1) the explanation for the failure to disclose the witness; (2) the importance of the testimony; (3) the prejudice to the opposing party if the witness is allowed to testify; and (4) whether a less harsh remedy than the exclusion of the witness would be sufficient to ameliorate the prejudice and vindicate the trial court’s authority. Based on these answers, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and remanded this case with direction that the Court of Appeals vacate the trial court’s ruling and remand to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Lee v. Smith, II" on Justia Law