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By: Aaron Miller
The Supreme Court of Georgia on August 10, 2021 issued an opinion significantly limiting the apportionment statute in Georgia. The case, Alston & Bird, LLP v. Hatcher Management Holdings, LLC S20G1419, severely limits the situations in which a defendant can apportion fault to a non-party based on statutory law. The statute, O.C.G.A. 51-12-33 previously allowed defendants in single defendant cases to file notice with the Court seeking to apportion fault to a non-party. This allowed defendants to argue to a jury that a non-party was liable for damages, and as such, said non-party could be included on a verdict form.
For example, in a negligent security case in which the defendant is the owner of the premise in which the tort occurred, the defendant could previously file notice to the Court apportioning fault to the non-party individual who committed the tort. This allowed the non-party to be on the verdict form, allowing a jury a more accessible way to apportion fault. However, the Court has limited that option for defendants.
In its ruling, which appears to only affect single defendant cases rather than those “brought against more than one person”, the Court relied on the plain and ordinary meaning of the text, finding that the plain language of the text provides that damages assessed against a defendant may be reduced according to the percentages of fault allocated to all who contributed to the alleged injury or damages, including nonparties – but damages may be reduced according to nonparty fault only in cases brought against multiple defendants.
The ruling does not appear to have any affect on apportioning fault to the plaintiff, nor does it appears to remove making an argument that a non-party is liable to some extent. However, the ruling does appear to have removed jury’s ability to apportion a percentage of fault to a non-party. This will likely have a significant affect on cases going forward. If the legislature intended to allow apportionment to a non-party in single defendant cases, it appears they will need to start from scratch and rewrite the statute.