Fundamentally, most personal injury claims are about fair compensation. Third-party liability often has a significant bearing on this issue.
Georgia has a very high number of uninsured and underinsured motorists. About one in seven drivers have no insurance. When these people cause accidents, a personal injury attorney can file a legal claim against the individual. But most people are essentially judgement-proof, so the claim may come to nothing.
Additionally, Georgia has one of the lowest auto insurance minimums in the county, and most motorists only carry the state-required minimum. In an extremely serious injury case, the hospital bill alone may exceed $100,000. If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) only has $50,000 of insurance coverage, there is a substantial gap.
In these cases, vicarious liability gives victims an additional source of recovery. So, it is easier for a Cobb County serious personal injury attorney to obtain fair compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages, as well as noneconomic losses, such as emotional distress and loss of enjoyment in life.
Respondent superior is perhaps the most common employer liability theory in Georgia courts. The law defines respondent superior’s two elements in broad, victim-friendly terms.
- Employee: In this context, an “employee” is not just someone who receives a regular paycheck and a W-2. Employer control, and not the tax law, determines who is an employee and who is not. So, independent contractors and owner-operators are employees in this context. That designation is particularly important in bus and semi-truck crash claims.
- Scope of Employment: Once upon a time, Georgia courts interpreted this prong very narrowly. Only situations like a regular delivery driver making her regular deliveries on her regular route qualified as the scope of employment. But today, if the tortfeasor does anything which benefits the employer in any way, that act is within the scope of employment. For example, in workers compensation claims, an injury at a company softball game is generally within the scope of employment. The employer benefit from the free advertising at the game.
Respondent superior applies in most driving negligence claims. If the case involves an intentional tort, like assault, there are some other options. Negligent hiring may apply if the employer knowingly hired an incompetent individual, and that person later causes injury. Special rules apply if the incompetence was a prior criminal record.
Intentional torts are quite common in nursing home abuse claims, such as staff-on-resident violence, emotional abuse, or financial abuse.
Alcohol Provider Liability
The thread of victim-friendly third party liability laws continues with Georgia Code section 51-1-40. At a time when many states have either scaled back their dram shop laws or done away with them altogether, the dram shop law in the Peachtree State is still quite expansive. It applies if a grocery store, bar, convenience store, restaurant, or other commercial provider makes an illegal sale. Illegal sales include:
- Minor: In most cases, providers are strictly liable if they sell alcohol to an underage patron who later negligently or intentionally causes injury. The old “s/he looked older” defense normally does not fly in Cobb County.
- Noticeably Intoxicated: Liability attaches regardless of age if the provider sold alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated individual. Evidence of intoxication includes bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and unsteady balance. The victim/plaintiff only need establish this point by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Additionally, the victim/plaintiff must establish that the car wreck or other injury was foreseeable. This element is relatively straightforward in ready-to-consume alcohol sales. Packaged alcohol sales are a little more difficult. But generally, it is foreseeable that a person will take a drink on the way home. So, the dram shop law applies to most convenience and grocery stores.
The dram shop law only applies to commercial sales. Party hosts and other social hosts may also be liable for alcohol-related crash damages, under a theory like negligent undertaking.
Teen drivers often have little insurance and no assets. However, teen drivers also cannot own the vehicles they drive. So, the negligent entrustment doctrine usually applies in these cases. Owners are vicariously liable for damages if they knowingly allow incompetent drivers to use their vehicles, and these drivers cause injury. Victim/plaintiffs in Marietta can establish incompetency with either direct or circumstantial evidence.
- Direct Evidence: People with no drivers’ licenses, or safety-suspended licenses, are usually incompetent as a matter of law. The same thing applies if the tortfeasor violated a drivers’ license restriction, such as driving without corrective lenses.
- Circumstantial Evidence: Indirect evidence of incompetency includes a poor driving record or a number of near-miss accidents. Typically, the owner must have actual knowledge of this indirect incompetency.
The negligent entrustment rule applies in other situations as well, such as one roommate borrowing another roommate’s car. But third party liability is easier to prove in teen driver cases, because Georgia is a family purpose doctrine state.
Commercial negligent entrustment cases work differently, because of the Graves Amendment. If someone rents a U-Haul truck or Enterprise car and negligently causes injury, the owner is liable if it was not in the trade or business of renting vehicles or the owner or agent was negligent.
In moving truck crashes, both these exceptions often apply. Many people rent trucks from moving supply companies which happen to rent trucks on the side. Additionally, it is the industry standard to verify drivers’ licenses and driving records before renting vehicles to customers. Failure to do so is evidence of negligence.
Georgia is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple responsible parties, the judge usually apportions damages among them based on their percentage of fault. This process usually takes any insurance company defenses into account, such as contributory negligence.
Work with a Diligent Attorney
Third party liability helps ensure fair compensation in serious injury cases. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm LLC. We can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.