Ga. SC upholds part of tort reform package

John O'Brien Jul. 10, 2012, 12:37pm


ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld a provision of the state's 2005 tort reform package that allows juries in lawsuits against property owners to apportion fault to criminal assailants.

The ruling came Monday in response to a pair of questions certified to the court by a Georgia federal court. The case involves a man who was attacked, abducted and robbed at a Red Roof Inns hotel in Atlanta in August 2009.

His lawsuit against Red Roof Inns was filed in federal court. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones asked the court if a jury could consider the fault of the criminal assailants.

"The rules of statutory construction, including reliance on ordinary word meanings, dictate that an assailant who evades hotel security to intentionally abduct, rob and assault a hotel guest is, at the very least, partially at 'fault' for the brutal injuries inflicted by the assailant on that guest," Justice Harold Melton wrote.

"As a party at fault, such an assailant must be included with others who may be at fault, e.g., the property owner in a premises liability action, for purposes of apportioning damages among all wrongdoing parties."

The tort reform package also included:

-A $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability lawsuits;

-A provision that allowed emergency physicians to apologize without having it used against them in court; and

-A provision that shielded emergency physicians from liability except in cases of gross negligence.

Justice Robert Benham was one of two justices who made up the minority in the Red Roof Inns decision, opting instead to not express an opinion on the constitutionality of the statute.

Benham said "there is more to statutory construction when Georgia's common law is at issue than looking through the dictionary."

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