Apportionment Jury Charges to be Updated

With the disappearance of joint and several liabilities, juries in Georgia decide cases based on comparative negligence principles and are now permitted to apportion fault in tort cases among the parties. Even more problematic for plaintiffs, a jury is also permitted to attribute fault to non-party individuals and corporations suggested by the defense so long as the defendant has provided appropriate notice of his intention to do so. Apportionment and comparative negligence are complex issues with which you should only trust an experienced Marietta lawyer.

What Do These Georgia Court Changes Mean?

Under the law, jurors are supposed to determine the damages suffered by the plaintiff then assign a percentage of fault for those damages to the party and/or any non-parties. For example, a jury may find the plaintiff’s damages to be $50,000 and assign 80% of fault to the defendant, 10% to a John Doe driver who cut off the defendant, and 10% to the plaintiff. In accordance with Georgia law, the judge in this example would then be required to reduce the damages owed to the plaintiff from the defendant. Rather than being liable for the entire $50,000 award, the named defendant will only be required to pay the plaintiff 80% of the verdict, or $40,000.

Nearly ubiquitously, Georgia’s pattern jury instructions are implemented by judges to instruct the jury on the law and its duties in determining how to apply the law to the facts of the case before it. However, under the current pattern jury charges, the jury is instructed that if it finds the plaintiff, or a non-party, was negligent, the jury is to reduce the amount of damages otherwise awarded to the plaintiff in proportion to the negligence of the plaintiff compared with that of the defendant. Clearly, under O.C.G.A. §52-23-33(a), this reduction is to be done by the judge and not the jury.

Georgia Court of Appeals News

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals found the pattern jury charge invalid. In doing so, the Court agreed with a defendant who appealed the issue after suffering a $20,000 verdict for the plaintiff. The case is Clark v. Rush, No. A11A1418.

The Marietta personal injury attorneys at Jones & Swanson have dealt with this issue in a variety of cases and have the experience to maximize the value of your claim. If you or someone you know has been injured, please contact our office as soon as possible at (770) 427-5498 or through our website.