Archive for January, 2010

Employer Liability Limited for Alcohol-Related Injuries at Work-Sponsored Events

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that an employer could not be held liable to an employee injured at a work-sponsored party based on the fact that the employer provided alcoholic beverages.  Solley v. Mullins Trucking Co., Inc., 2009 WL 4681036 (Ga.App. Dec. 10, 2009).

Jimmy Mullins was the sole officer and shareholder of Mullins Trucking, and Barbara Solley was employed as its office manager.  On March 17, 2006, Mullins Trucking hosted its annual party at a hotel; the company provided food and alcoholic beverages.  During the party, Mullins became intoxicated and allegedly assaulted Solley in her hotel room.  Solley subsequently filed a complaint against Mullins Trucking, alleging that the company was negligent in hosting a party with alcohol and in failing to stop a dangerous activity of which it was aware.  Solley argued that the company owed her a duty equivalent to a landowner’s duty to protect a social guest from the reasonably anticipated conduct of another.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mullins Trucking, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed.

Providers of alcohol are insulated from third-party claims of negligence except as provided in O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, which applies to individual and employers.  Specifically, “…a person who…knowingly sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such…person when the sale, furnishing, or serving is the proximate cause of such injury or damage.”  Here, Solley’s injuries were not the result of a motor vehicle accident proximately caused by Mullins Trucking serving alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person.  Furthermore, because the statute specifically sets forth that only the consumption, not the service of alcohol, is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by the intoxicated person, Mullins Trucking could not be held liable for Solley’s injuries.  Therefore, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of Mullins Trucking.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

Independent Contractors Do Not Shield Landowners from Statutory Duty to Repair Premises

A recent decision limits a landowner’s protection for the negligent acts of subcontractors.  The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that a landowner can be liable for an independent contractor’s actions in repairing the premises where the alleged act is a violation of a statutorily imposed duty.  Atkins v. MRP Park Lake, L.P., 2009 WL 3931525 (Ga.App. Nov. 20, 2009).

After a tornado struck an apartment complex owned by MRP and managed by Realty Management, Whatley Construction was hired as a contractor to assist in the clean up.  When Atkins complained that the roof in her apartment was leaking, a subcontractor discovered that a temporary tarp had become detached from the roof and assigned two Whatley employees to reattach it.  However, the tarp covered the vent pipes in the roof, trapping carbon monoxide inside Atkins’s apartment.  Three days later, Atkins was hospitalized and diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning.  Joined by her husband, Atkins sued MRP, Realty, and Whatley, asserting claims of negligence in carrying out the landowner’s duty to repair.  The trial court granted summary judgment to MRP and Realty, ruling that Whatley’s status as an independent contractor exonerated them from liability.  The court of appeals disagreed and reversed.

Although an employer is generally not responsible for torts committed by independent contractors, O.C.G.A. § 51-2-5(4) carves out an exception if the alleged wrongful act is a violation of a duty imposed by statute.  Therefore, a landowner cannot insulate itself from liability simply by hiring an independent contractor to perform the landowner’s statutorily-imposed duties, and it is irrelevant whether the landowner had any knowledge of the resulting dangerous condition.  Stated differently, the knowledge of an independent contractor is legally attributed to the landowner where the independent contractor is performing duties statutorily imposed on the landowner.  Specifically, O.C.G.A. §§ 44-7-13 and 44-7-14 require a landowner to “keep the rented premises in good repair” and impose liability on the landlord for “damages resulting from defects in the premises.”  Furthermore, under O.C.G.A. § 44-7-2(b)(1), a landlord is liable when the repairs are “completed so negligently that a defect in the premises remains despite the attempted repair.”  Therefore, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that MRP and Realty could be liable for Whatley’s negligence in repairing the roof.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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