Archive for May, 2010

Court of Appeals of Georgia Presents Seemingly Inconsistent Opinions on Compensability of Work-Related Injuries

Which of the following injuries are compensable: (1) a nurse twists her knee while standing and turning to get water for a patient or (2) a custodian dislocates her knee while bending down to pick up her own dropped pill?  Because a compensable injury must arise out of and in the course of employment, one might conclude that the former injury is compensable while the latter injury is not.  The Court of Appeals of Georgia, however, disagreed and held the opposite.

On March 17, 2006, Wendy Harris, a custodian at the Peach County Courthouse, was discussing work issues with her supervisor when she realized a diuretic pill she had placed in her pocket had fallen on the floor.  When her supervisor pointed it out to her, she bent down to pick up the pill and dislocated her knee.  Harris’s supervisor testified that Harris’s job duties included removing foreign objects from the floor, regardless of whether the object was her own medication.  Because bending over to remove an object from the floor was incidental to and in furtherance of Harris’s employment as a custodian, the Court of Appeals of Georgia deferred to the Board’s finding of compensability.  Harris v. Peach County Bd. of Comm’rs, 296 Ga.App. 225 (2009).

 A different result was reached in a case where Susan Ward, a nurse, twisted her knee while turning around to get a patient some water to take medication.  St. Joseph’s Hospital v. Ward, 300 Ga.App. 845 (2009).  The Court of Appeals of Georgia relied on its decision in Chaparral Boats v. Heath, 269 Ga.App. 339 (2004), which held that there is no causal connection between the employment and the injury where the injury is “caused by a risk to which the employee would have been equally exposed apart from the employment.”  Citing deference to the Board, the Court affirmed the appellate division’s finding that Ward “was not exposed to any risk unique to her employment by standing and turning.”  The Court reconciled its opinion with the Harris decision by pointing out that the latter case presented evidence from which the Board could conclude that the employee was engaged in activity (i.e. bending to pick up an object) to which she might not have been equally exposed apart from her work.

 It appears that Ward produced an unfair result in that one could make a valid argument that turning to retrieve water for a patient is just as incidental to one’s employment as bending to pick up an object.  Perhaps if Ward’s supervisor had testified that a nurse’s job duties included providing water to a patient, the Court would have reached a different conclusion.  Although the opinions offer little guidance as to what specific evidence is needed, the Court of Appeals of Georgia seems to require actual evidence, beyond a common-sense argument, that the injury-causing activity was related to the employee’s work.

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

Court of Appeals of Georgia Upholds Sovereign Immunity for Pat-Down Search Injury

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently held that a citizen’s negligence claim against a city and a police officer was barred by immunity because the plaintiff failed to show malice on the part of the officer and proof that the city waived its immunity.  Campbell v. Goode, 2010 WL 1172949 (Ga.App. Mar. 29, 2010).

On June 8, 2006, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Officer Johnny Campbell observed Jesse Goode walking near a McDonald’s restaurant in Conyers.  Officer Campbell, who was aware of recent early-morning robberies at restaurants in the area, approached Goode, who was wearing a coat and carrying a backpack, and asked him what he was doing.  Goode responded that he was throwing away some trash and provided identification.  Officer Campbell then asked Goode if he had any weapons but Goode did not answer.  After asking several additional times without an answer, Officer Campbell approached Goode from behind and attempted to frisk him for weapons.  After Goode raised his right arm above his head, Officer Campbell grabbed his arm and pulled it in such a way that caused it to break.  Goode sued the City of Conyers and Officer Campbell, personally and in his official capacity, asserting claims of negligence and intentional torts.

Under Georgia law, a police officer may be personally liable only for discretionary acts performed with malice.  Decisions to investigate suspicious activity and conduct a search for weapons are discretionary functions of a police officer’s job.  In the context of official immunity, malice requires a deliberate intention to do wrong or cause harm.  While Goode acknowledged that he did not believe Officer Campbell intended to break his arm, he claimed that Officer Campbell called him an “a__hole.”  However, such a statement, even if uttered by Officer Campbell, does not rise to the level of malice, and the Court held that Officer Campbell was entitled to official immunity.

Furthermore, the Court held that Goode’s claim against Officer Campbell in his official capacity was effectively a suit against the City.  Therefore, even if a jury were to find that Officer Campbell acted negligently, sovereign immunity nevertheless bars the claim.  Because the City did not waive its immunity by purchasing liability insurance, the City was entitled to summary judgment.

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

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