Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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A conservator was appointed after the minor children’s grandmother had already brought a wrongful-death lawsuit on their behalf. The conservator tried in various ways to exercise his litigation powers, with the goal of dismissing the grandmother’s lawsuit and bringing a similar one in a different county. The conservator was eventually joined as an “involuntary plaintiff” in the grandmother’s lawsuit, and his further attempts to gain control of the litigation, in that court and others, were rejected. He appealed several rulings unfavorable to him, but the Court of Appeals concluded that he had forfeited his exclusive power under OCGA § 29-3-22 (a) (6) earlier in the case when he declined to join the grandmother’s case voluntarily and sought its dismissal. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that a conservator who declines to join preexisting litigation voluntarily and seeks to have that litigation dismissed does not thereby forfeit his exclusive power to participate in that litigation after he is joined as a party under OCGA § 9-11- 19 (a). So the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ contrary holding, vacated the parts of the Court of Appeals’ opinion affected by it, and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings. View "Hall, et al. v. Davis Lawn Care Service, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified questions of law to the Georgia Supreme Court, all involving OCGA § 40-8-76.1 (d), the “seatbelt statute.” The federal court asked whether the statute precluded a defendant in an action alleging defective restraint system design and/or negligent restraint system manufacture from producing evidence related to: (1) The existence of seatbelts in a vehicle as part of the vehicle’s passenger restraint system; or (2) Evidence related to the seatbelt’s design and compliance with applicable federal safety standards; or (3) An occupant’s nonuse of a seatbelt as part of their defense. The Supreme Court concluded OCGA § 40-8-76.1 (d) did not preclude a defendant in an action alleging defective restraint-system design or negligent restraint-system manufacture from producing evidence related to the existence of seatbelts in a vehicle as part of the vehicle’s passenger restraint system. Furthermore, the Court concluded the statute did not preclude such defendants from producing evidence related to the seatbelt’s design and compliance with applicable federal safety standards. Finally, the Court concluded OCGA § 40 -8-76.1 (d) precluded consideration of the failure of an occupant of a motor vehicle to wear a seatbelt for the purposes set forth in subsection (d), even as part of a defendant-manufacturer’s defense. View "Domingue, et al. v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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Prior to this appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s order dismissing with prejudice Vanessa and Brock Joyner’s wrongful death action against defendants Dr. Lynn Leaphart and MPPG, Inc. (“MPPG”), in accordance with the “two-dismissal rule” of OCGA § 9-11-41 (a) (3)1 following the Joyners’ voluntary dismissal of two later-filed actions. In Division 2 of its opinion, the Court of Appeals held that, even though the Joyners’ second and third actions were filed against defendants who were not sued in the original, pending action, the two-dismissal rule nevertheless applied, and the second voluntary dismissal operated as an adjudication on the merits requiring the dismissal of the action against Leaphart and MPPG. To the Georgia Supreme Court, the Joyners argued the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the two dismissal rule applied to the second voluntary dismissal. To this, the Supreme Court agreed the appellate court did err, vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Joyner, et al. v. Leapheart, et al." on Justia Law

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While driving over 100 miles per hour, Christal McGee rear-ended a car driven by Wentworth Maynard, causing him to suffer severe injuries. When the collision occurred, McGee was using a “Speed Filter” feature within Snapchat, a mobile phone application, to record her real-life speed on a photo or video that she could then share with other Snapchat users. Wentworth and his wife, Karen Maynard, sued McGee and Snapchat, Inc. (“Snap”), alleging that Snap negligently designed Snapchat’s Speed Filter. The trial court dismissed the design-defect claim against Snap, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Snap did not owe a legal duty to the Maynards because a manufacturer’s duty to design reasonably safe products does not extend to people injured by a third party’s intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer’s product. On certiorari, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred: "a manufacturer has a duty under our decisional law to use reasonable care in selecting from alternative designs to reduce reasonably foreseeable risks of harm posed by its products. When a particular risk of harm from a product is not reasonably foreseeable, a manufacturer owes no design duty to reduce that risk. How a product was being used (e.g., intentionally, negligently, properly, improperly, or not at all) and who was using it (the plaintiff or a third party) when an injury occurred are relevant considerations in determining whether a manufacturer could reasonably foresee a particular risk of harm from its product. Nevertheless, our decisional law does not recognize a blanket exception to a manufacturer’s design duty in all cases of intentional or tortious third-party use." Because the holding of the Court of Appeals conflicted with these principles, and because the Maynards adequately alleged Snap could have reasonably foreseen the particular risk of harm from the Speed Filter at issue here, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maynard, et al. v. Snapchat, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified three questions of law to the Georgia Supreme Court. The questions sought interpretation of OCGA 40-6-248.1(b). The Supreme Court's responses to the questions certified were: (1) OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b) imposed a duty on a person assisting the operator of a vehicle with loading merchandise onto the vehicle to securely fasten the load; (2) a person assisting in loading a vehicle may be liable in tort for injuries to a third party resulting from a breach of his or her duty to secure that load (and any covering thereon); and (3) when serving as the basis for a civil tort suit, a violation of OCGA 40-6-248.1(b)(1) was subject to ordinary tort principles and defenses. View "McIntyre v. Sam's East, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether a plaintiff could receive a full recovery under OCGA 13-6-11 and OCGA 9-11-68(b)(2). Because the Court concluded the provisions provided for different recoveries despite using somewhat similar measures for calculating the respective amount of damages or sanction, a prevailing plaintiff could recover under each statutory provision without regard to any recovery under the other. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case with direction that the case be remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of the plaintiff’s claim for attorney fees and litigation expenses pursuant to OCGA 9-11-68(b)(2). View "Junior v. Graham" on Justia Law

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In December 2018, Phillip Doe filed suit against Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and the Archdiocese of Atlanta (collectively, “the Church”), asserting various tort claims based in part on childhood sexual abuse Doe allegedly suffered while serving as an altar boy at Saint Joseph’s in the late 1970s. The trial court granted the Church’s motion to dismiss, ruling, in pertinent part, that Doe’s “non-nuisance tort claims” were barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitation, OCGA 9-3-33,2 and could not be tolled for fraud by OCGA 9-3-96. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Court of Appeals, finding that although the trial court correctly determined that Doe’s claim seeking to hold the Church vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior was time-barred, the court erred in concluding at the motion-to-dismiss stage that Doe could not introduce evidence of fraud within the framework of his complaint sufficient under OCGA 9-3-96 to toll the limitation period as to his claims of negligent training and supervision, negligent retention, negligent failure to warn and provide adequate security, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent misrepresentation and concealment. View "Doe v. St. Joseph's Catholic Church, et al." on Justia Law

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Dorothy Wright and her grandchildren (collectively, the “Decedents”) were killed when their vehicle was struck by a stolen vehicle that was being chased by College Park Police Department officers. At the time of the accident, the City of College Park had an insurance policy provided by Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company (“Atlantic”), which provided coverage for negligent acts involving the City’s motor vehicles up to $5,000,000 but also included immunity endorsements which said that Atlantic had no duty to pay damages “unless the defenses of sovereign and governmental immunity are inapplicable.” Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, raising claims of negligence and recklessness resulting in the wrongful deaths of the three Decedents, to which the City raised sovereign immunity as a defense. Plaintiffs claimed the insurance policy limit was $5,000,000 for the three deaths, while Atlantic contended the policy limit was capped at $700,000 under the relevant statutory scheme and the terms of the City’s policy. As the parties agreed, pursuant to OCGA 36-92-2 (a)(3), the sovereign immunity of local government entities was automatically waived up to $700,000 in this instance, regardless of whether the City had a liability insurance policy. Atlantic intervened in the case to litigate the limit of the insurance policy. The trial court ruled that the policy limit is $5,000,000, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court then granted Atlantic’s petition for certiorari to decide whether the City’s insurance policy waived the City’s sovereign immunity under OCGA 36-92-2 (d)(3). The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals incorrectly ruled that the City’s insurance policy increased the sovereign immunity waiver notwithstanding the immunity endorsements, which expressly precluded coverage when a sovereign immunity defense applies. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al." on Justia Law

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Carl Gardei filed a petition for declaratory judgment against R. L. “Butch” Conway, the Sheriff of Gwinnett County, Georgia, and D. Victor Reynolds, the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (“GBI”), in their individual capacities (collectively “Respondents”), alleging that Respondents’ continued enforcement against him of the statutory requirements governing Georgia’s Sex Offender Registry (the “Registry”) violated his constitutional rights. The trial court dismissed Gardei’s petition on the ground that his claims for relief were time barred under OCGA 9-3-33, the two-year statute of limitation for personal injury claims, because Gardei had initially registered under the Registry Act in 2009 and every year thereafter. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a divided opinion. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Gardei’s petition for certiorari to address whether Gardei’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were subject to the limitation period set forth in OCGA 9-3-33, and whether any applicable statute of limitation was tolled based on the requirement that Gardei annually renew his sex-offender registration. The Supreme Court concluded that although Gardei’s claims were subject to the two-year statute of limitation under OCGA 9-3-33, because he sought only prospective relief, the statute of limitation on those claims had not yet begun to run. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’s judgment holding that Gardei’s claims were time-barred, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gardei v. Conway, et al." on Justia Law

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Gai Spann filed suit against Rashida Davis and Kyra Dixon, administrators of the City of Atlanta Municipal Court (“the Clerks”), alleging that she was wrongfully arrested and detained as a result of the Clerks’ failure to withdraw a failure-to-appear warrant after it had been cancelled by a municipal court. The Clerks raised sovereign immunity and official immunity as defenses in a motion to dismiss, but the trial court instead sua sponte raised and granted the motion based on quasi-judicial immunity, with no prior notice to the parties. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to review this case, and held the Court of Appeals erred in concluding the trial court was correct to rule sua sponte on the issue of quasi- judicial immunity, even though the defendants did not raise quasi-judicial immunity in the motion to dismiss or the answer. The appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spann v. Davis, et al." on Justia Law