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By: Stephanie Stewart
Georgia’s apportionment statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33, has been making waves in the Georgia Court of Appeals and Georgia Supreme Court as new opinions are being issued interpreting the game-changing statute. Previous cases have already held that the statute effectively abolished joint and several liability and contribution in Georgia. In the recent case of District Owners Association, Inc. v. AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., the Georgia Court of Appeals found that the statute has also abolished common-law claims for apportionment.
In District Owners, the Plaintiff was injured when he jumped over a wall and down to a parking deck at Atlantic Station. He brought a premises liability action against the owner of the property. Subsequently, the owner filed a third-party complaint against the designers and the builders of the wall and parking deck at issue, claiming that the third-party defendants were liable for common law indemnification and common law apportionment. The court dismissed the owner’s third-party complaint holding that the apportionment statute displaced the common law concerning claims for indemnity and apportionment.
This case provides further proof of the sweeping effect the apportionment statute has on the common law in Georgia. No longer are defendants permitted to bring joint tortfeasors into the lawsuit and make them parties. Instead, absent a claim for contractual indemnity or vicarious liability, plaintiffs alone will determine who will be defendants in a suit. Other persons or entities who may be liable to the plaintiff will remain non-parties and defendants must rely upon the non-party fault procedure outlined in the apportionment statute in their efforts to reduce their potential liability to a plaintiff. This puts an increased burden on plaintiffs to bring all potentially liable parties into the suit if the plaintiff wants to recover the full value of their claim. Whether this result was intended by the legislature is unclear, but at present, it is a procedural reality.