Apportionment Law Abrogates Respondeat Superior Rule, GA Supreme Court Holds

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 12, 2020 2:49:30 PM


Stock image. 

Atlanta, GA— In a ruling that impacts Georgia negligence cases brought against defendant employers and their workers, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the state’s apportionment statute abrogated the Respondeat Superior Rule. 

The opinion, drafted by Justice John Ellington, overturns a summary judgment decision on a variety of negligence claims against the employer of a driver who struck and killed a pedestrian in 2014. 

“[T]he Respondeat Superior Rule is inconsistent with the plain language of the apportionment statute,” Ellington concluded in the decision, released on November 2. 

Brandon Lanier was struck and killed by a truck driven by Riley Hulsey as Lanier stepped into a Tifton, Georgia crosswalk. Hulsey was working for soil fumigation company TriEst Ag at the time. TriEst admitted that respondeat superior applied, and the trial court subsequently granted the company’s motion for partial summary judgment against claims of negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision. 

At the 2017 trial covered by CVN, jurors found Hulsey and Lanier each 50% responsible. The Georgia Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the trial’s court’s grant of partial summary judgment on the negligence claims against TriEst.

In overturning that decision, the state’s high court concluded the long-standing Respondeat Superior Rule was fundamentally at odds with OCGA § 51-12-33, the state’s apportionment statute. 

Justice Ellington noted that the Respondeat Superior Rule traditionally entitled an employer to summary judgment against claims of negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision as long as an employer conceded vicarious liability under respondeat superior if its worker was found negligent and a plaintiff had not brought punitive claims against the employer itself. 

By contrast, Justice Ellington noted, § 51-12-33 requires  a jury apportion its award to those who are liable according to the percentage of fault. 

“Thus, the claims encompassed by the Respondeat Superior Rule are claims that the employer is at ‘fault’ within the meaning of the apportionment statute,” Ellington wrote. “Adherence to the Respondeat Superior Rule would preclude the jury from apportioning fault to the employer for negligent entrustment, hiring, training, supervision, and retention. Any allocation of relative fault among those persons at fault, which may include the plaintiff, could differ if one person’s fault was excluded from consideration.”

Justice Carla Wong McMillian dissented in the decision. 

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Topics: Georgia, Quynn v. Hulsey, Georgia Supreme Court