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Georgia Court Interprets Apportionment Statute in Car Accident Claim

Car accidents occur with some frequency on Atlanta roadways. People injured in car accidents have a variety of options when seeking to recover for injuries and damages sustained in a collision. State law governs many of these options, and it is important to understand the statutory legal requirements that apply to each case. One law in particular, OCGA § 51-12-33, also known as an “apportionment statute,” provides that a plaintiff’s damages shall be reduced according to that person’s own percentage of fault for the damages or injuries sustained. Defendants to car accident claims often raise this statute as an affirmative defense to a personal injury claim. Fortunately, an experienced injury attorney would be able to address these affirmative defenses in an effort to achieve the best possible recovery for your car accident claim.

A recent case, Zaldivar v. Prickett et al. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), illustrates the court’s interpretation of OCGA § 51-12-33 as it applies to a defendant’s claim that a non-party plaintiff’s employer should share a percentage of fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. Here, the plaintiff and the defendant crashed into each other at an intersection with a traffic light. Both drivers were injured, but only one brought a personal injury action. The plaintiff, who was driving a company car at the time of the accident, claimed that he cleared the intersection upon turning left once the light turned red. The defendant claimed that as she entered the intersection, the plaintiff turned left in front of her while the light was still yellow. The defendant argued, among other things, that the plaintiff’s employer was either partially or wholly at fault by negligently entrusting the vehicle to the plaintiff, despite receiving complaints about his driving. Due to this reasoning, the defendant claimed that under the statute, a jury should be able to consider the employer’s fault when determining the fault for the accident.

The trial court rejected that argument, pointing out that the employer did not breach a legal duty owed to the plaintiff and, further, it was not the proximate cause of his injuries. Therefore, the court concluded that the defendant would not be allowed to have the jury consider the employer’s alleged fault for the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant appealed, arguing that the statute would enable a jury to assess the percentage of fault attached to the employer based on grounds of negligent entrustment. After reviewing and interpreting the statute, the court of appeals rejected the defendant’s argument. Under the law, fault cannot be apportioned to a non-party unless he or she contributed to the plaintiff’s damages or injury. Here, the court concluded that negligent entrustment did not contribute to the plaintiff’s damages or injury.

The court explained that a non-party’s negligence cannot contribute to a plaintiff’s injury or damages unless there is a causal connection between them. Here, the court held that any negligence on behalf of the plaintiff would break the causal connection between an employer’s negligent entrustment of a vehicle to the plaintiff and the injuries sustained. In essence, the court refused to interpret the statute broadly and, therefore, held that it did not apply to these facts. This case illustrates the importance of understanding the Georgia Code and how it relates to car accident claims. An experienced injury attorney would be able to do so, in order to achieve the best possible settlement under the circumstances of your case.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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