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Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Damage Apportionment Case

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.