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Georgia Court Reviews Employer Liability In Car Accident Case

A victim of a car accident who has been injured due to another person’s negligence may be entitled to recover damages for any resulting pain and suffering.  In addition to ensuring that you assert the required elements in order to successfully state a claim for relief, it is vitally important that you also understand against whom you may seek relief.  This is a complicated way of saying that one or more entities or parties may potentially be liable for your injuries, and it simply depends on the circumstances surrounding your case. For help with your car accident claim, you are encouraged to contact an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area, someone who handles such matters on a day to day basis.

Getting the right information and legal guidance at the outset can dramatically affect the results of your claim.  In a recent case, Garden City, GA v. Herrera (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the court of appeals was asked to determine whether a Georgia municipality could be held liable for damages resulting from a car accident involving one of its employees.  Under Georgia case law, employers may be liable for the negligence of their employees based on the principle of “respondeat superior.” Under this concept, the employer may be liable if the employee’s negligent conduct occurred while acting within the scope of his or her employment. As with many legal doctrines, there are certain exceptions to this general rule.

For example, if the employer (or general master) lends his employee (or servant) to another, the master is not responsible for any negligence the servant commits within the scope of the new employment with the “special master.” This is known as the “borrowed servant” doctrine.  Under the law, an employee may be considered to be a borrowed servant if the following three elements can be proven:  the special master had complete control and direction of the servant; the general master did not have such control; and the special master had the exclusive right to discharge the servant.

Here, the City assigned a police officer to a narcotics task force for a specified “tour of duty.” Under the terms of the assignment, the City transferred exclusive directive supervision and authority over the officer to the new commander with the County.  While working for the County, the officer got into a motor vehicle accident with a car driven by Lisa Nicolle Muse.  Muse, through Ann J. Herrera, filed this negligence action for injuries she sustained in the car accident against several defendants, including the City.  The City moved for summary judgment on the basis of the “borrowed servant” rule.  The trial court denied the motion, finding that there was a question of fact regarding whether the County retained exclusive authority to discharge the officer. The City appealed, arguing that the County did have the exclusive authority to discharge the officer at the time of the accident.

The court of appeals reversed, concluding that based on the language of the contract between the City and the County, the County had the exclusive and unilateral right to discharge the officer from the specific assignment he was performing at the time of the accident.  The court distinguished this authority from the City’s retention of certain authority over the officer, including the right to remove him from the assignment to the County.

This case nicely illustrates the complicated nature of determining legal liability with respect to a car accident claim for damages. It is important to know and understand the case law and statutory provisions applicable to your type of case.  Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with 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 a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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