Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
COLLINGTON v. CLAYTON COUNTY
In August 2018, Mary Collington was involved in a motor vehicle accident with Jesse Curney, a deputy with the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, who was acting within the scope of his official duties at the time. Initially believing Deputy Curney was a Clayton County police officer, Collington sent notice of her claims to the Clayton County Chief of Police, the Clayton County Commissioners, and the District Attorney of Clayton County. Collington later filed a lawsuit against Clayton County, asserting that she suffered injuries caused by the negligence of Deputy Curney.Upon motion to dismiss by the defendants, the trial court dismissed Collington's claims, concluding that Collington's claims against the Sheriff should be dismissed as she had failed to present timely notice to the Sheriff's office under OCGA § 36-11-1. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. The Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to determine whether OCGA § 36-11-1 applies to official-capacity claims against a county sheriff for the negligent use of a motor vehicle, and if so, whether presenting such a claim to the county commission satisfies the claimant's duty under the statute.The Supreme Court of Georgia held that OCGA § 36-11-1 does apply to official-capacity claims against a county sheriff for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle. Furthermore, the court decided that because a claim against a county sheriff in his official capacity for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle is a claim against a county under OCGA § 36-11-1, presenting the claim to the county governing authority satisfies the statute's presentment requirement. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals, remanding the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "COLLINGTON v. CLAYTON COUNTY" on Justia Law
WILSON v. INTHACHAK
In January 2018, Dorothy Warren passed away after Dr. Nirandr Inthachak allegedly misinterpreted her CT scan. Angela Wilson, Warren’s daughter, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Inthachak. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Inthachak on two grounds. First, Wilson failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence required under OCGA § 51-1-29.5 for healthcare liability claims arising from emergency medical care. Second, Wilson couldn’t prove that the outcome would have been different if Dr. Inthachak had correctly interpreted the CT scan.Wilson appealed, and all 14 judges of the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was improper. However, they were evenly divided on why summary judgment was incorrect under OCGA § 51-1-29.5. The Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Georgia due to the equal division, invoking the Court's equal-division jurisdiction.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over the case because the Court of Appeals was not equally divided on the disposition of the judgment that was appealed. The Court of Appeals had unanimously agreed that the grant of summary judgment could not stand, and their disagreement was only regarding the reasons for why one of the two grounds was faulty. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that such a disagreement did not invoke its equal-division jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court returned the case to the Court of Appeals. View "WILSON v. INTHACHAK" on Justia Law
BRIXMOR NEW CHASTAIN CORNERS SC, LLC v. JAMES
In this case, Arlene James filed a premises liability lawsuit against Brixmor New Chastain Corners SC, LLC, after she tripped on a parking bumper in a parking lot owned by Brixmor and sustained injuries. The parking bumper was not in its usual location but was instead laid out to separate the parking space from a motorcycle parking area. After the incident, Brixmor painted the parking bumper yellow. The trial court denied Brixmor's motion for summary judgment due to disputed facts about whether the structure James tripped on was a hazard and whether she had previously encountered it. The trial court also granted James's motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, barring Brixmor from arguing that the parking bumper was not a potential hazard. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment but vacated the order imposing spoliation sanctions, remanding the matter to the trial court to apply the correct legal standard.The Supreme Court of Georgia granted Brixmor's petition for a writ of certiorari but chose to address a different issue: the Court of Appeals' determination that Brixmor failed to demonstrate an abuse of discretion by the trial court in considering the subsequent remedial measures rule in its analysis of the spoliation issue. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that once the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court applied the incorrect standard on spoliation, consideration of the remedial measure rule was unnecessary and thus dicta. The Supreme Court of Georgia vacated Division 3 of the opinion to the extent that it purports to make a legal determination on the subsequent remedial measures rule and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "BRIXMOR NEW CHASTAIN CORNERS SC, LLC v. JAMES" on Justia Law
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