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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

An Examination of the Interpretation of Free Recreation

Posted on: October 15th, 2018

By: Kevin Stone

In Georgia, if property is open free of charge for recreational purposes, the landowner is normally immune from liability for injuries occurring on the property.  A court can decide this as a matter of law without sending the case to a jury.  When sales occur on such property, however, a court may require a jury to decide whether the property’s use is “purely recreational,” rather than commercial.  This creation of a jury issue exists even if the sales are by private vendors and the landowner receives no payment.

For example, the Court of Appeals recently found that a free concert—at which concert-goers had the option of buying concessions from outside vendors (that did not pay the property owner), and where the event may have created a marketing benefit for the landowner—was considered to have both recreational and commercial purposes.  The result being that a jury, not a judge, had to resolve the issue of the property owner’s primary purpose for the property.  This interpretation of the law allows a commercial classification even though property is open for free for recreation.

This seems at odds with the purpose of the Recreational Property Act: “to encourage property owners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes.”  In a concurrence, Chief Judge Dillard made the keen observation that a fair interpretation of the Act strongly suggests that the only relevant economic consideration is whether an admission fee is charged.  In such a case, the immunity would apply.

The Georgia Supreme Court has decided to weigh in and granted certiorari on these issues.  The Court’s examination will provide clarification for landowners who allow free access for recreation but also allow the public the option of making purchases.  We will continue to follow this case and keep you updated with the Court’s explanation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Stone at [email protected].

Murphy’s Law and The Exception to Georgia’s Impact Rule

Posted on: September 17th, 2018

By: Jason Kamp

Claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress are limited by the Impact Rule in Georgia.  In a recent attempt to keep the sole exception from swallowing the Impact Rule, the Supreme Court of Georgia may have done exactly what it sought to prevent.

The Impact Rule states: “In a claim concerning negligent conduct, a recovery for emotional distress is allowed only where there is some impact on the plaintiff, and that impact must be a physical injury.”  Lee v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. et al., 272 Ga. 583, 584 (2000).

The Impact Rule has one exception for the death of a child:

When, as here, a parent and child sustain a direct physical impact and physical injuries through the negligence of another, and the child dies as the result of such negligence, the parent may attempt to recover for serious emotional distress from witnessing the child’s suffering and death without regard to whether the emotional trauma arises out of the physical injury to the parent.

Lee v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. et al., 272 Ga. 583, 588 (2000).

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently decided a case concerning the exception to the Impact Rule for the death of a child.  In Coon v. Med. Ctr., Inc., the plaintiff learned during a routine prenatal examination that her unborn baby no longer had a heartbeat. Coon v. Med. Ctr., Inc., 300 Ga. 722, 723 (2017). After labor was induced, the plaintiff’s stillborn child was mixed up with another stillborn at the hospital.  Id. at 724.  The hospital then released the wrong remains to the plaintiff and her family, who unknowingly held services and buried the wrong remains as a result.  Id.  The hospital later realized its mistake and informed the plaintiff.  Id. at 725.  A claim for negligent infliction of emotional harm under the exception followed.

The Supreme Court of Georgia declined to extend the exception, reasoning, “[the plaintiff] did not suffer any physical impact that resulted in physical injury from the hospital’s negligent mishandling of her stillborn child’s remains, nor did the child suffer any physical impact or injury.” Id. at 734-735.

By focusing on the impact element, the Supreme Court implicitly assumed the answer to a threshold question: whether an unborn child is a child capable of dying under the exception.  The court’s reasoning appears to open the exception to all tort cases with a physical impact that results in a failed pregnancy.  This could result in a growth in negligent infliction of emotional distress claims in bodily injury and medical malpractice cases.

Before Coon, the exception to the impact rule assumed the dead child had already been born.  After Coon, that assumption is either gone or open to question.  In its attempt to limit the exception, the Supreme Court of Georgia incidentally expanded it to include a debate on when life begins.  At the end of the Coon opinion, the court remarked, “If we do not insist on a workable limiting principle as a prerequisite to recognition of new exceptions to the physical impact rule, the exceptions will soon will soon swallow the rule.”  Id. at 735.  Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law knows no exceptions.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jason Kamp at [email protected].

Eleventh Circuit Again Rejects Claim That Title VII Prohibits Discrimination On The Basis Of Sexual Orientation

Posted on: July 23rd, 2018

By: Bill Buechner

In Bostock v. Clayton Co. Bd of Comm’rs, 723 F. App’x 964 (11th Cir. 2018), the Eleventh Circuit again held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.   In doing so, the panel relied on prior circuit precedent in Evans v. Ga. Reg’l Hosp., 850 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct.  557 (2017) and Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936 (5th Cir. 1979).    Jack Hancock and Bill Buechner are representing the County in the case.

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit issued an order denying a request from a member of the Court for rehearing en banc.  Bostock v. Clayton Co. Bd. of Commissioners, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 19835,  2018 WL 3455013 (11th Cir. July 18, 2018).   The order was notable because it was accompanied by a dissent by two circuit judges sharply criticizing their colleagues for not agreeing to rehear the case en banc.

The plaintiff in Bostock had already filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, and the County will be filing a response to that petition in the next few weeks.   The employer in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., 883 F.3d 100 (2d Cir. 2018) (en banc) also has filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court seeking review of the Second Circuit’s ruling that Title VII does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

We will report on the outcome of these pending petitions for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Bill Buechner at [email protected].

Is Georgia Game for Growing Bad Faith Liability?

Posted on: July 17th, 2018

By: Jessica Samford

As discussed in my last blog on bad faith, seeking bifurcation can be a proactive means to distinguish the issue of coverage from the issue of bad faith and appropriately manage the all too often unwieldy discovery process before it’s too late.  A recent case in Georgia is an interesting illustration of an insurer’s attempt to bifurcate issues after the discovery stage in a bad faith failure to settle claim in particular and is yet another cautionary example for insurers to carefully consider the increasing potential for extracontractual liability in Georgia.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87868, *3-*4 (M.D. Ga. May 25, 2018).

In that case, the trial court declined to bifurcate the issues of liability and proximate cause of damages at the trial stage as requested by Geico, which sought to have a jury determine whether or not Geico could be held liable for bad faith failure to settle before being presented with evidence of the default judgment entered against Geico’s insured of almost $3 million and causation of same.  Separation of liability and damages issues was not warranted according to the trial court because facts relating to Geico’s claim handling were relevant to both, and Geico’s concerns could be handled through proper jury instructions, special interrogatories, and the verdict form.  See also Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52761 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 29, 2018).  The trial court did, however, bifurcate the claim for punitive damages from the rest of the jury trial.

The result was a jury verdict of $2 million against Geico for failing to settle in response to a bicyclist’s demand for the $30,000 policy limit based on medical bills of almost $10,000 following a motor vehicle accident.  Previously, Geico had argued there was no coverage due to the insured’s failure to notify Geico of the subsequent lawsuit she was served.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203617, *6, 2017 WL 6347174 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 12, 2017).  Notwithstanding such a flagrant breach of the policy’s notice conditions, the trial court did not see coverage as being an issue since that coverage defense did not exist at the time Geico responded to the demand by offering to settle for about half the limits instead.

These unusual circumstances are certainly noteworthy, and extracontractual damages such as these are becoming less uncommon in Georgia bad faith cases.  FMG’s Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith BlogLine has already geared up to cover the Georgia Supreme Court’s upcoming rulings after granting cert on the scope of what triggers failure to settle liability in Georgia, not to mention the proposed changes to the Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance and their impact.  Whatever is in the cards for extracontractual liability in Georgia, the risks presented by settlement demands should be evaluated in light of these current trends.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jessica Samford at [email protected].

Georgia Employers Must Become Familiar With State’s New Paid Leave Law

Posted on: July 9th, 2018

By: Will Collins

Across the country, there are an increasing number of state laws requiring that employers provide paid sick leave, including paid leave for the care of a family member. For instance, under the Georgia Family Care Act, which went into effect in July of 2017, employees who work at least 30 hours per week and receive a paid sick leave benefit may use up to five (5) days per calendar of that paid leave to care for “immediate family members.”  This includes the employee’s child, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, parent, or “any other dependents as shown on the employee’s most recent tax return.”

To be clear, the Act, which applies to the State of Georgia and all of its political subdivisions and instrumentalities as well as all employers with twenty-five (25) or more employees, does not create an obligation to provide sick leave, but instead requires covered employers that elect to provide paid sick leave to allow their employees to use a portion of that leave to care for immediate family members.

Georgia is just one of several states, including New York, expanding paid family leave obligations. While Georgia stopped short of mandating paid sick leave, eleven (11) other states have laws addressing paid leave policies. As a result, employers must be mindful of state law requirements as well as unpaid leave obligations under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

If you have questions about your leave policy or leave obligations, please contact one of the attorneys in our National Labor and Employment Practice Group to help you navigate the state and federal regulations and answer questions as they arise.