Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Georgia Ports Authority v. Lawyer
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case to reconsider Hines v. Georgia Ports Authority, 604 SE2d 189 (2004), and more specifically, its holding that the Georgia Ports Authority was not an “arm of the state” and therefore, had no sovereign immunity from a lawsuit in a state court to recover damages under federal maritime law for the tort of a Ports Authority employee. The Court overruled Hines and concluded the Ports Authority was indeed an “arm of the state” and had sovereign immunity from lawsuits to recover damages under federal maritime law for the torts of its employees. View "Georgia Ports Authority v. Lawyer" on Justia Law
Patterson v. Kevon, LLC
Joshua and Taylor Patterson became ill after eating food at a wedding rehearsal dinner prepared, catered, and served by Big Kev’s Barbeque. The Pattersons brought this action for negligence, violation of the Georgia Food Act (OCGA 26-2-20 et seq.), and products liability, alleging that the food at the dinner was defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared. After limited discovery, Big Kev’s moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Pattersons “are unable to show that their alleged food poisoning was proximately caused by Defendant.” The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether summary judgment for the defendant was properly granted. The Court of Appeals was “sharply” divided, yet granted summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause. The Supreme Court found that the standard that has developed over the years in the Court of Appeals has conflated cases at both the trial and summary judgment stages, thus creating the mistaken impression that food poisoning cases “are a unique species of negligence cases” imposing a heavier burden upon the plaintiff to show proximate cause than that generally required of nonmovants on summary judgment. “The appropriate legal standard on summary judgment, correctly applied to the facts of this case, shows that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause.” View "Patterson v. Kevon, LLC" on Justia Law
Carpenter v. McMann
Appellees Sherinna McMann and Childrona Holton were passengers in a car traveling on the interstate in Bibb County, Georgia when allegedly an unknown driver swerved into their car's path, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. Appellant Eric Carpenter was allegedly driving too closely behind them and rear-ended the vehicle. Doe fled the scene and was never identified. Appellees sued Doe and Carpenter for negligence in Bibb County under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute in Bibb County pursuant to OCGA 33-7-11 (d)(1), which provided that “the residence of such ‘John Doe’ defendant shall be presumed to be in the county in which the accident causing injury or damages occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the plaintiff in the action.” Carpenter moved to transfer venue to Crawford County where he resided, but the trial court denied his motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Carpenter’s petition for certiorari, posing a single question: Does the venue provision of the uninsured motorist statute apply in a suit related to an automobile collision brought against a known Georgia resident and an unknown defendant under a joint tortfeasor theory? The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, and therefore affirmed. View "Carpenter v. McMann" on Justia Law
Tenet HealthSystem GA, Inc. v. Thomas
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals in Thomas v. Tenet HealthSystem GB, 796 SE2d 301 (2017), to consider whether that court properly held that a claim of imputed simple negligence against a hospital, which was asserted in a second amended complaint, related back to the original complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-15 (c). Finding that the Court of Appeals was correct, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Tenet HealthSystem GA, Inc. v. Thomas" on Justia Law
Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc.
In a wrongful death lawsuit involving Georgia law, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. In September 1992, Delia Bibbs was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a head injury that left her in a coma. A few months after the accident, she filed, through her husband, a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. The case was tried by a jury, but before it returned a verdict, Bibbs and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement, which guaranteed some recovery for Bibbs in the event of a verdict for Toyota, but limited Toyota’s exposure in the event of a verdict for Bibbs. The jury returned a verdict for Bibbs, awarding substantial damages, including more than $400,000 for past medical expenses, $6 million for future life care expenses, and $30 million for past and future pain and suffering. Within the next month, Toyota paid the amount required under the settlement agreement, and Bibbs executed a written release that incorporated the settlement agreement. Expressly excluded from the release was “any claim for Delia Bibbs’ wrongful death, inasmuch as Delia Bibbs has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].” Also in connection with the settlement, Bibbs dismissed her personal injury lawsuit with prejudice. More than 20 years later, Bibbs died, Together with her surviving children, Bibbs’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota, seeking damages for the full value of her life. The case was removed to federal district court, and Toyota filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Under Georgia law, the federal court asked whether the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action brought by survivors of a decedent limited by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a previous personal injury suit settling all claims that were or could have been asserted in that suit. If the answer was yes, what components of wrongful death damages were barred? The Georgia Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, and in response to the second question, explained that damages recovered or recoverable in an earlier personal injury lawsuit could not be recovered again in a wrongful death suit. View "Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc." on Justia Law
Reis et al. v. OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. et al.
Plaintiffs Candice Reis and Melvin Williams appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“OOIDA”) in a direct action against OOIDA and others arising from a vehicular collision involving Plaintiffs and a motor carrier insured by OOIDA. At issue was whether provisions in the federal Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986 (“the LRRA”), 15 USC 3901, et seq., preempted Georgia’s motor carrier and insurance carrier direct action statutes, OCGA sections 40-1-112 (c),1 40-2-140 (d) (4), in regard to risk retention groups, thereby precluding this direct action against OOIDA. After review of the statutes at issue here, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was indeed federal preemption of this action against OOIDA, and consequently, affirmed summary judgment. View "Reis et al. v. OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden
In 2012, Bryan Harrell was driving his pickup truck at more than 50 miles per hour when he rear-ended the 1999 Jeep in which four-year-old Remington Walden was a rear-seat passenger, with his aunt behind the wheel. The impact left Harrell and Remington’s aunt unhurt, but fractured Remington’s femur. The impact also caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted gas tank to rupture and catch fire. Remington burned to death trying to escape; he lived for up to a minute as he burned, and witnesses heard him screaming. Remington’s parents (“Appellees”) sued both Chrysler and Harrell for wrongful death. At trial, in March and April of 2015, Appellees challenged the Jeep’s vehicle design, arguing that Chrysler should not have used a rear-mounted fuel tank. When questioning Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Mark Chernoby at trial, Appellees’ counsel asked about the CEO’s salary, bonus, and benefits; Marchionne himself was never questioned about his income and benefits. The trial court overruled Chrysler’s repeated relevance and wealth-of-a-party objections to this line of questioning. Appellees’ counsel referenced Marchionne’s compensation testimony again in closing, arguing, “what [Chrysler’s counsel] said Remi’s life was worth, Marchionne made 43 times as much in one year.” The jury determined that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failed to warn of the hazard that killed Remington. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal discussed admission of CEO compensation, holding “evidence of a witness’s relationship to a party is always admissible” and that the CEO’s compensation “made the existence of [the CEO’s] bias in favor of Chrysler more probable.” The Georgia Supreme Court held not that compensation evidence is always admissible to show the bias of an employee witness, or that it is never admissible, but that such evidence is subject to the Rule 403 analysis weighing the evidence’s unfair prejudice against its probative value. Because Chrysler did not raise a Rule 403 objection to the compensation evidence at issue in this appeal, the Supreme Court considered the question not under the ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard, but as a question of plain error. The Court concluded that under the particular circumstances of this case, it could not say that the prejudicial effect of the evidence so far outweighed its probative value that its admission was clear and obvious reversible error. Accordingly, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the rationale of the Court of Appeals, it ultimately affirmed its judgment. View "Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden" on Justia Law
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals in the preceding case, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch, 793 SE2d 564 (2016), properly articulated the legal standard for when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence begins and properly applied that standard to the facts of this case. Like a defendant’s duty, a plaintiff’s duty to preserve relevant evidence in her control arises when that party actually anticipates or reasonably should anticipate litigation. Because the Court of Appeals appropriately identified and applied this standard, as did the trial court, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch" on Justia Law
Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to examine whether the Court of Appeals improperly construed OCGA 16-11-135(e), which was part of the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act, as granting immunity “from firearm-related tort liability” to an employer who was sued for liability for the allegedly negligent acts of its employee under the theory of respondeat superior, and for the employer’s alleged negligent supervision. Appellant Claude Lucas sued appellee Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”) along with BCI’s employee Jeremy Wilson for injuries Lucas suffered when Wilson accidentally shot Lucas with a handgun. The accident occurred while Wilson was on the premises of BCI’s customer where he had driven his employer-owned vehicle to make a service call. In apparent violation of BCI’s policy prohibiting employees from transporting firearms while on company business, Wilson had taken a firearm with him on this service call. When he learned that a number of vehicles in the customer’s parking lot had been vandalized in recent days, he removed his gun from the vehicle and took it inside, where he accidentally fired it, injuring Lucas. Lucas filed his complaint, and following discovery, BCI filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that Wilson’s choice to take his firearm onto the client’s property was not within the scope of Wilson’s employment, and therefore BCI is not liable for these actions under a theory of respondeat superior; (2) that Lucas explicitly abandoned his claims for BCI’s negligent supervision; and (3) that OCGA 16-11-135(e) barred Lucas’s claims against BCI. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. On remand, the Court of Appeals was instructed to address Lucas’s assertion that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to BCI on his claims of liability under respondeat superior and for negligent supervision. View "Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc." on Justia Law
Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris
The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite or permit without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law