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District Court Rules Georgia Apportionment Statute Alters Standards on Negligent Hiring and Retention

February 9, 2015

In Little v. McClure, 2014 WL 4276118 (M.D.Ga.), the defendant argued it was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ negligent hiring, retention, and training claims because it had admitted that the driver was its employee and that he was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. Georgia cases have held an employer is entitled to summary judgment on its independent negligence in hiring and retaining an employee when it admits the applicability of respondeat superior. An exception exists if there is a valid claim for punitive damages against the employer. The plaintiffs argued that this rule is no longer applicable due to Georgia’s abolishment of joint and several liability through its apportionment statute.

The court ruled because the jury must apportion separate percentages of damages to each party at fault, the employer’s liability will no longer necessarily be coextensive with the employee’s simply because respondeat superior applies. Under a system of joint and several liability, both the employer and employee would be liable for the entire amount of the plaintiff’s damages if respondeat superior applies, regardless of whether the employer was also independently negligent. However, under Georgia’s apportionment statute, an employer would be separately responsible for its degree of fault, if any, based on its independent negligence. A defendant is only liable for the percentage of a plaintiff’s damages attributable to his apportioned fault, so the employee’s negligence (for which the employer would be liable by virtue of respondeat superior) would be apportioned separately from the employer’s independent negligence. The court held the apportionment statute removes the rationale for granting summary judgment on negligent hiring, retention, and training claims purely based on the employer’s admission of respondeat superior.

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