Earlier this month, the
Georgia Supreme Court provided clarity on the application of a Georgia statute that allows juries
to allocate damage expenses among defendants as well as potentially liable
parties that were not sued. In this ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court
held that the case law on negligent entrustment was wrong. Negligent entrustment
is a tort where one party is held responsible for negligence because they
carelessly provided another party (the person entrusted) with a dangerous
instrument and that person’s operation of that instrument caused
injury to a third party. The case decided earlier this month arose from
a 2009 auto accident between Daniel Prickett and Imelda Zaldivar. At the
time of the collision, Daniel Prickett was driving a company vehicle for
his employer, Overhead Door Company. Both parties alleged that the other
was at fault for the accident, and both suffered injuries as a result.
Prickett filed a lawsuit against Zandivar in 2011.
At the time the accident occurred, Prickett was driving in a company vehicle
on the way to a sales call. Zaldivar attempted to hold Prickett’s
employer responsible for damages, based on her claim that the company
negligently entrusted Prickett with the vehicle, despite multiple anonymous
complaints about his driving. The state court denied Zaldivar’s
request to add Pricket’s employer to the verdict. The Court of Appeals
affirmed this, and cited a 1993
decision that held “an injured driver cannot bring a negligent entrustment
claim against the person who gave him or her the vehicle because the driver’s
own negligence breaks the causal connection between the entrustor’s
negligent act and the driver’s injury.”
The court concluded that the above-mentioned case law was wrong, and Zaldivar
could in fact ask the jury to allocate fault to Prickett’s employer.
The ruling has amended the statute to now say that a jury can apportion
of the damages to everyone involved, even parties that have not been sued.
A jury must “consider the fault of the persons or entities who contributed
to the alleged injury or damages, regardless of whether the person or
entity was, or could have been, named as a party to the suit. Nonparties
found to be responsible for damages don’t owe any money to the plaintiff,
but their presence helps defendants by giving jurors somewhere else to
point their fingers for blame and potentially reducing a named defendant’s
financial obligation.” Essentially, this means that the apportionment
statute permits the consideration of fault of a non-named party, and does
not consider the fact that that party may have an affirmative defense
of immunity claim that negates any liability.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a car crash, the experienced
auto accident attorneys at Goldstein & Hayes, P.C. can help you determine whether there are
any third parties to be added to your case in order to allocate damages.Contact us today for a free consultation.