Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
McBrayer, et al. v. Scarbrough
The Court of Appeals affirmed a superior court order granting a judgment on the pleadings in favor of the Sheriff of Tift County, Gene Scarbrough, in this action brought by Sherrie McBrayer for the wrongful death of her husband, James McBrayer (“the decedent”). The Court of Appeals held that Scarbrough was immune from suit because McBrayer’s complaint did not show that the decedent’s death, which occurred while he was restrained in the back seat of a patrol car, arose from the sheriff’s deputies’ “use” of the patrol car “as a vehicle,” which, under Court of Appeals case law construing OCGA §§ 33-24-51 (b) and 36-92-2, was a prerequisite for a waiver of sovereign immunity for injuries arising from the “negligent use of a covered motor vehicle.” In so holding, the Court of Appeals noted that McBrayer’s complaint did not allege “that the car was running; that any deputy was seated in the car; that any deputy was poised to start the car or transport the decedent to any location;” or that the deputies were otherwise “actively” using the patrol car “as a vehicle. McBrayer thereafter timely petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court for certiorari review. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in limiting the meaning of the word “use” in the phrase “use of a covered motor vehicle” by reading into OCGA §§ 33-24-51 (b) and 36-92-2 the words “actively” and “as a vehicle.” Therefore, it reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "McBrayer, et al. v. Scarbrough" on Justia Law
Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC v. Cotton
In January 2018, Bianca Bouie was returning from her lunch break to her workplace, Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC, also known as University Childcare Center (“University Childcare”), when she looked away from the road to scroll through the contacts in her cell phone so that she could call her manager to report that she was running late. While Bouie was distracted, her car crossed the median and caused an accident with a truck that was driven by Andrea Cotton. Cotton filed a personal injury lawsuit against Bouie and later added University Childcare as a defendant, alleging, among other things, that Bouie was acting in furtherance of University Childcare’s business and within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident and that University Childcare was therefore liable under the legal theory of respondeat superior. University Childcare moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion, concluding, in pertinent part, that Bouie was not acting in furtherance of University Childcare’s business and within the scope of her employment when the accident occurred. Cotton appealed, and a divided Court of Appeals panel reversed, holding that under the “special circumstances exception” to the general rule that employees do not act in furtherance of an employer’s business and within the scope of employment when they are commuting to and from work or when they are on a lunch break, and under two of its cases applying that “exception,” there was sufficient evidence to raise a jury question as to the issue of liability under respondeat superior. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeals’ “special circumstances exception,” as well as the multi-factor test the court developed for applying that “exception.” The Supreme Court also concluded that the two cases on which the Court of Appeals relied in applying the “special circumstances exception” used imprecise language regarding the respondeat-superior test, and the Supreme Court disapproved such language. In light of these conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’s opinion and remanded the case to that court so that it could apply the proper respondeat-superior test in the first instance. View "Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC v. Cotton" on Justia Law
Ford Motor Co. v. Cosper
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding OCGA § 51-1-11(c). Although product-liability claims were generally subject to a ten-year statute of repose in Georgia, the statute of repose did not apply to negligence claims “arising out of conduct which manifests a willful, reckless, or wanton disregard for life or property.” The federal district court asked: (1) whether, under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), “reckless” conduct was a standalone exception to OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s ten-year statute of repose; and (2) if so, how “reckless” conduct was defined. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative: under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), reckless disregard for life or property was a standalone exception to OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s ten-year statute of repose. Thus, OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s statute of repose does not apply to a product-liability claim sounding in negligence that “aris[es] out of conduct which manifests . . . reckless . . . disregard for life or property.” The Court answered the second question that “reckless . . . disregard for life or property,” under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), carries a meaning that closely resembles the Restatement (First) of Torts’ definition of “Reckless Disregard of Safety.” Specifically, an actor’s “conduct . . . manifests a . . . reckless . . . disregard for life or property,” under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), if the actor “intentionally does an act or fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable [person] to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of [harm to another’s life or property] but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to [the other’s life or property].” View "Ford Motor Co. v. Cosper" on Justia Law
Miller, et al. v. Golden Peanut Company, LLC, et al.
This appeal arises from a fatal collision between a tractor-trailer driven by Lloy White and a car driven by Kristie Miller. The issue it presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether the well-established test governing the admissibility of expert testimony applied with equal force to investigating law enforcement officers. To this, the Court held that when an investigating law enforcement officer provides expert testimony, the officer is subject to the same inquiry as all witnesses who offer expert opinion testimony and, therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to conduct a full, three-prong analysis under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and its progeny. View "Miller, et al. v. Golden Peanut Company, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Georgia CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. Carmichael
Three cases presented an opportunity for the Georgia Supreme Court to explore the scope and nature of the liability faced by premises owners, occupiers, and security contractors in cases involving personal injuries arising from third-party criminal conduct. Although the underlying appeals varied with respect to their facts and specific issues presented, the resolution of each appeal "necessitates consideration of fundamental principles of premises liability under Georgia law." The Court clarified that the reasonable foreseeability of a third-party criminal act is a determination linked to a proprietor’s duty to keep the premises and approaches safe under OCGA § 51-3-1, and that the totality of the circumstances informs whether a third-party criminal act was reasonably foreseeable. Moreover, the question of reasonable foreseeability is generally reserved to the trier of fact, but the trial court may resolve the issue as a matter of law where no rational juror could determine the issue in favor of the non-moving party. View "Georgia CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. Carmichael" on Justia Law
Taylor v. Devereux Foundation, Inc. et al.
Fifteen-year-old Tia McGee was sexually assaulted by an employee working at a behavioral health facility operated by the Devereux Foundation ("Devereux"). At trial, Devereux admitted that “Devereux breached the legal duty of ordinary care owed to Tia McGee for her safety from sexual assault and that the breach of Devereux’s legal duty contributed to Jimmy Singleterry’s sexual assault of Tia McGee.” The jury returned a verdict for $10,000,000 in compensatory damages, finding both Devereux and Singleterry, the employee who assaulted McGee, at fault, and $50,000,000 in punitive damages against Devereux. The trial court ultimately reduced the jury’s punitive-damage award from $50,000,000 to $250,000, consistent with the statutory cap on punitive damages found in OCGA § 51-12-5.1 (g). Jo-Ann Taylor, the executor of McGee's estate, contended that OCGA § 51-12-5.1 (g) violated the rights to trial by jury, separation of powers, and equal protection guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that Taylor did not satisfy her burden of proving there was a "clear and palpable" conflict between the statute and the Georgia Constitution. Thus, the trial court's orders were affirmed. View "Taylor v. Devereux Foundation, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Hall, et al. v. Davis Lawn Care Service, Inc., et al.
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
Domingue, et al. v. Ford Motor Company
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
Joyner, et al. v. Leapheart, et al.
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
Maynard, et al. v. Snapchat, Inc.
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