Atlanta, GA— In an opinion that affects products liability cases throughout Georgia, the state’s Supreme Court last week upheld a trial judge’s decision to reduce a $12.5 million jury award against Suzuki, based on apportionment of fault.
“We are not persuaded that we should ignore the plain language of OCGA § 51-12-33 (a) and write into the statute an exception for strict products liability claims,” Georgia Supreme Court Presiding Justice David Nahmias wrote, in holding Georgia’s comparative negligence act applied to products liability cases.
The opinion upheld a Georgia trial court’s decision to reduce a $12.5 million verdict in 2018 to Adrian Johns and his wife for the crash that broke his back five years earlier.
Johns contended faulty brakes on his 2006 Suzuki GSX R-1000 motorcycle caused the wreck. However, jurors apportioned 49 percent of the blame for the crash to Johns, and the trial court reduced the award, finding OCGA § 51-12-33 applied to products liability cases.
On review, the Georgia Supreme Court noted “the strict products liability claim falls comfortably within the statute’s textual ambit,” despite the fact that neither the act nor its preamble mentioned strict products liability.
“[I]t is not necessary for the statute (much less its preamble) to recite ‘strict products liability’ to encompass strict products liability claims like Adrian’s within its broad, and by all appearances applicable, language,” the Court reasoned.
The Court also rejected the argument to read an exception into the act for strict liability cases. In so holding, it concluded that earlier court decisions finding a plaintiff’s negligence could not be used as a defense in a strict liability case were displaced by the language of § 51-12-33.
Further, the court reasoned that the statute’s application would not undermine the basic nature of strict liability cases. “Plaintiffs raising strict products liability claims will still generally be relieved of the burden of showing that the injury-causing product defect was the result of the manufacturer’s negligence,” Nahmias wrote. “[A]lthough the doctrine is commonly called 'comparative negligence,' it does not present the same kind of negligence question that would be presented about a manufacturer in a traditional negligence case.”
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