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Georgia Court Holds that Company Cannot Be Held Responsible for Accident

truck accidentWhile many accidents occur between vehicles owned by individuals, accidents also frequently occur that involve corporate vehicles. When this is the case, plaintiffs may seek to go after the corporate owner because they have deeper pockets for recovering medical and personal expenses. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court considered whether a corporation could be held responsible for an accident that occurred when the son of the owner was driving a company vehicle.

In this case, J.L. was driving a truck that was owned by Corrugated Replacements, Inc. His father, R.L., owned part of Corrugated Replacements. J.L. struck a van that was carrying the Johnson family. One of their children was killed, and other members of the family were injured. The family sued Corrugated Replacements to recover for their loses. Corrugated Replacements moved for summary judgment on the claims but was denied. It then appealed.

On appeal, Corrugated Replacements argued that it was not liable for J.L.’s actions under a theory of negligent entrustment or based on vicarious liability, so it could not be held responsible for J.L.’s accident, and its motion for summary judgment should have been granted. According to Corrugated Replacements, J.L. began working for his father’s company when he was 14. Several years later, he was given a Dodge Ram truck by his father for his 16th birthday. R.L. personally paid for the truck, and it was to be used by J.L., rather than by the company, but R.L. listed Corrugated Replacements as the owner of the truck in case it was needed for company business. Corrugated Replacements also paid the insurance for the truck and paid for gas for the vehicle. However, at the time of the accident, J.L. was no longer working for Corrugated Replacements and was not driving the vehicle for company purposes. Additionally, at the time of the accident, no one was aware of any prior accidents or negative history on the part of J.L., and no one knew that at the time of the accident he had been drinking.

In light of this evidence, the Court of Appeals first addressed the negligent entrustment claim. It held that since the record clearly indicated that no one at Corrugated Replacements was aware that J.L. had been drinking at the time of the accident or had reason to believe he was an unsafe driver, they could not have had knowledge that J.L. was a negligent driver when he was allowed to drive his truck. Accordingly, the court held that the negligent entrustment claim failed, and Corrugated Replacements was entitled to summary judgment on this claim.

Next, turning to the vicarious liability claim, the Court of Appeals held that although J.L. was using a truck registered in Corrugated Replacement’s name at the time of the accident, he clearly was not acting within the scope of employment because he was not employed by Corrugated Replacement at the time he was driving the truck. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals also held that the lower court was wrong to deny summary judgment on this claim and reversed this ruling as well.

Bringing claims arising from a car accident against both the driver of the vehicle and the owner of the vehicle can be a good approach in pursuing full recovery of costs and damages. However, plaintiffs must be certain that a corporate owner of a vehicle can in fact be held responsible for the accident that occurred. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an Atlanta car accident attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases and disputes over accident liability, representing individuals who have been involved or injured in accidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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