Georgia General Torts Update


Stembridge v. Pride Utility Construction Company, LLC (9/7/22)
by Diana Moore

Holding: Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to defendant at fault driver’s employer, citing there were no “special circumstances” in this case that would overcome the general rule that an employer is not liable for an accident that occurred during an employee’s commute to work. Defendant driver was driving his personal vehicle. Defendant’s employer paid defendant a “rig rate,” which compensated Defendant for the use of his personal tools, as well as gas and maintenance. Defendant driver was paid hourly for the time he worked, and the clock did not start to run until he was at the job site. On days when weather prevented work, defendant driver would receive “show up” pay, which was equivalent to two hours’ wages, which compensated him for the commute.

Key Quotes:

  • “Every master shall be liable for torts committed by his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily. When a servant causes an injury to another, the test to determine if the master is liable is whether or not the servant was at the time of the injury acting within the scope of his employment and on the business of the master. The test is not that the act of the servant was done during the existence of the employment, but whether the servant was at that time serving the master. While a jury frequently must resolve whether an employee acted in furtherance of his master’s business and within the scope of his employment at the time an injury was inflicted, the evidence in some cases is so plain and undisputable that the court may resolve a respondeat superior claim as a matter of law.”
  • “There is a longstanding general rule that an employee is engaged in a purely personal matter while commuting to or from work. We have held, however, that there is an exception to this general rule that allows an employer to be held liable for its employee’s actions while commuting to or from work where there are ‘special circumstances.’”
  • “Agency may be established by the declarations of an agent if there is corroborating evidence to prove the agency.”
  • “Although we have identified various factors relevant to the exception, such as the presence of the employer’s materials in the employee’s vehicle; use of a vehicle stipend; and whether the employee carried a phone for work-related calls during the commute, we have never held that such factors, standing alone, were sufficient to impose vicarious liability. Rather, we have typically required something more – some affirmative act by the employee to benefit the employer in order to place the commute in the scope of employment.”

City of Sandersville v. Usry (9/23/22)
by Chelsea Cooke

Holding: Court of Appeals reversed a denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding there was no genuine issue of facts as to whether hazard lights on defendant’s truck were activated at the time of a collision.

Key Quotes:

  • “It is a well-established principle that merely because an accident occurred and a plaintiff suffered injury establishes no basis for recovery unless the plaintiff comes forward with evidence showing that the accident was caused by the defendant’s negligence.”
  • “Before circumstantial evidence can have any probative value to rebut or contradict direct and positive testimony of an unimpeached witness of the alleged facts in question, such evidence must point at least more strongly to a conclusion opposite to the direct testimony.”
  • “In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a finding of fact that may be inferred from, but is not demanded by, circumstantial evidence has no probative value against positive and uncontradicted evidence that no such fact exists, provided that the circumstantial evidence may be construed consistently with the direct evidence.”

Logan v. Younusbaig (10/26/22)
by Kayla Rocker

Holding: Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment on negligent entrustment claims, citing the defendant did not have actual knowledge that his son was a reckless driver and reversed a grant of summary judgment as to defendant’s vicarious liability under the family purpose doctrine, citing defendant’s son was defendant’s immediate family, who was using the vehicle for a family purpose at the time of the accident and a jury could infer that defendant had control and authority over his son’s use of the vehicle.

Key Quotes:

  • “In a negligent entrustment claim, liability arises from the negligent act of the owner in lending his automobile to another to drive, with actual knowledge that the driver is incompetent or habitually reckless.”
  • In a civil case, if a witness invokes the privilege against self-incrimination and refuses to answer a question concerning whether he or she committed a particular act, it creates an implied admission that a truthful answer would tend to prove that the witness had committed the act.
  • “The family purpose doctrine states that when an automobile is maintained by the owner for the use and convenience of his family, such owner is liable for the negligence of a member of the family having authority to drive the car while it is being used for a family purpose.”
  • “To apply the family purpose doctrine to a given situation, four criteria must be met: (1) the owner of the vehicle must have given permission to a family member to drive the vehicle; (2) the vehicle’s owner must have relinquished control of the vehicle to the family member; (3) the family member must be in the vehicle; and (4) the vehicle must be engaged in a family purpose.”
  • “Georgia courts have used authority and control as the principal factor in determining whether liability accrues under the doctrine.”
  • Supreme Court has clarified that “owner” in this context means “one who owns an auto, controls its use, has some property interest in it, or supplies it.”

Chausmer v. Gottlieb (10/21/22)
by Kayla Rocker

Holding: Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to defendant on a property damage claim as a result of a fallen tree, holding plaintiff failed to show evidence to create a jury question on the issue of whether defendant should have known of such damage.

Key Quotes:

  • “A property owner who knows or reasonably should have known that a tree is “diseased, decayed or otherwise” dangerous has a duty to remove the danger. If he fails to do so, he may be held liable for damages caused by the tree’s fall.”
  • “A landowner must inspect trees with “visible, apparent, and patent” decay.”
  • “Whether a tree has patent, visible decay is judged from the perspective of a layperson, not “an expert trained in the inspection, care and maintenance of trees.””
  • “A landowner is charged with knowledge of the dangerous condition of a tree if a layperson should have known the tree was diseased.””

Morris v. Real Estate Expert Advisors, LLC (10/25/22)
by Kayla Rocker

Holding: Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to a defendant in her personal capacity and vacated and remanded summary judgment as to the Defendant real estate agency’s vicarious liability for its alleged employee’s negligence on the grounds that the real estate agency owed a duty to plaintiff to prevent the shooting by third-party and its conduct was the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries.

Key Quotes:

  • “The general rule is that an officer of a corporation who takes part in the commission of a tort by the corporation is personally liable therefor, and an officer”
  • “Although an injured party may sustain a claim against a corporation for negligently training an employee, . . . we have found [no authority] for the proposition that a corporate officer responsible for training procedures may be held liable for an injury to a third party arising out of an alleged failure by the officer to properly train a corporate employee.”
  • “An employer may be held liable [for negligent hiring or retention of an employee] only where there is sufficient evidence to establish that the employer reasonably knew or should have known of an employee’s tendencies to engage in certain behavior relevant to the injuries allegedly incurred by the plaintiff”
  • “Generally, one who merely occupies the capacity of a corporate officer cannot be held to be vicariously liable for such damages as would otherwise be recoverable from his corporate principal.”