The Georgia Supreme Court has overturned a trial judgment by changing the law of Georgia to permit a Plaintiff to pursue claims of negligent entrustment, hiring, training, supervision, and retention even when the conduct giving rise to those claims does not rise to the level necessary to pursue punitive damages. Previously, under the respondeat superior rule, the Defendant would be entitled to summary judgment on those direct claims of negligence if a Defendant conceded that it would be vicariously liable. The Plaintiff’s only opportunity to pursue those claims in that situation was to present a valid claim for punitive damages against the employer for their own independent negligence.
This decision allows separate claims for negligent hiring, retention and entrustment even when punitive damages are not in play. The court held that these direct claims of negligence are based on the alleged negligent acts of the employer and, therefore, “adherence to the respondeat superior rule would preclude the jury from apportioning fault to the employer for negligent entrustment, hiring, training, supervision and retention.” In finality, it held that the respondeat superior rule has been abrogated by the Apportionment Statute found at OCGA § 51-12-33 because said statute requires the fault of all parties to be considered by the jury.
Beasley Allen lawyers in our Atlanta office applaud the analysis and ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court in this situation. All too often, Defendants would admit vicarious liability of their employee simply to prevent the jury from hearing about the egregious conduct they had in allowing the accident to occur in the first place. Many times, they would claim that the Plaintiff contributed to their own injuries, which the jury did hear about, and prior law hid the conduct of the employer. This created an injustice in that the jury only heard part of the story. This decision will right this wrong and permit the jury to hear the entirety of the relevant evidence necessary to decide the case. Justice Ellington authored the opinion for a majority of the court.
Lawyers in our firm’s Atlanta office handle trucking cases throughout Georgia. Our lawyers currently have a number of tractor-trailer wreck cases where this opinion will directly impact the way the case is presented to the jury. Beasley Allen lawyers would appreciate the opportunity to team up with other lawyers on tractor-trailer wreck cases. If you need more information or would like to discuss a case contact Chris Glover, the lawyer who heads up our Atlanta office.
This story appears in the December 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.