Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Georgia Supreme Court opinion on apportionment of liability

Here is a link to an interesting opinion by the Georgia Supreme Court on whether a defendant can ask they jury to apportion part of the liability to a person who is not a part to the lawsuit. The jury in the case found the defendant had been negligent in failing to prevent criminal attack on its property.  Then the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two specific questions to the state supreme court.

Based on statutory interpretation, the state supreme court found that (1) the jury is allowed to apportion damages among a property owner and the criminal assailant and (2) instructions or a special verdict form requiring such apportionment would not violate the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.  Specifically, the court concluded that "[t]he rules of statutory construction, including reliance on ordinary word meanings, dictate that an assailant who evades hotel security to intentionally abduct, rob, and assault a hotel guest is, at the very least, partially at "fault" for the brutal injuries inflicted by the assailant on that guest. As a party at fault, such an assailant must be included with others who may be at fault, e.g., the property owner in a premises liability action, for purposes of apportioning damages among all wrongdoing parties. The case is called Couch v. Red Roofs Inn, Inc and it is available here.

Not all jurisdictions agree with this approach.  Some jurisdictions allow juries to apportion liability only among parties present at trial. For more on this case go here.

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