In 2005, Georgia’s legislature passed a law getting rid of joint and several liability for tort cases. Joint and several liability means that in a tort claim, if there are multiple defendants from the same claim and a judgment is issued against them, they are all liable for the award. The plaintiff can get the award from any of the defendants, and if some defendants cannot pay, he or she can enforce the judgment against the defendants who can afford to pay. The 2005 law only applied to incidents from that point on, so it has taken a few years to be applied in the court system, and our Atlanta premises liability lawyers saw a recent Court of Appeals case showing how the this law works.
The case is District Owners Assoc., Inc. v. AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc. and it was decided in early July. The original premises liability case involved Richard Corbett, who sued District Owners Association (DOA). Corbett was jogging along a sidewalk and there was a 37 inch high wall, and from his vantage point he thought he could jump over the wall and continuing running on a parking deck next to it. From where he was, the drop looked only about three feet, so he attempted it but it turned out to be a drop of 33 feet and he was seriously injured in the fall. In his lawsuit he claimed that a fence or barrier should have been erected to stop pedestrians like him from injury due to the unexpected drop. In that lawsuit, DOA owned the parking deck, but decided to file a third party complaint against the designers and contractors who built the parking deck in question. These included: AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc.; Carl Walker, Inc.; Vratsinas Construction Company; and C.W. Matthews Contracting Company, Inc. The third party complaint stated that if DOA was liable in the premises liability case, that these companies were also liable. DOA based their complaint on the common law right of contribution among tortfeasors.
The trial court dismissed DOA’s third party claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. The Court stated that when the legislature did away with joint and several liability, the common law contribution among tortfeasors was also abolished in Georgia. Under current law, if a non- party, such as the builders and designers of the parking deck, is potentially liable, the defendant can file a notice identifying them before the start of the trial and the jury may take into account the percentage of fault of the non-parties in deciding an award against the defendant. But the non-parties cannot be added as defendants.