Archive for September, 2012

Exclusive Remedy Doctrine Bars Tort Suits Even After “No-Liability” Settlement in Workers’ Comp Claim

On February 13, 2009, John Ellis, an employee of The Knight Group, a homebuilder, accidentally shot his coworker, Joseph Smith, while the two were shooting the gun in an empty build site owned by the employer while on-the-clock. Smith v. Ellis, ___ Ga. ____, 2012 WL 3887670 (Sept. 10, 2012). Smith filed a workers’ compensation claim against the employer and eventually entered into a no-liability settlement regarding the injury for $6,000.00. Nine months later, Smith sued Ellis for negligence and, under the exclusive remedy provision, the trial court granted summary judgment to Ellis. In granting summary judgment, the trial court relied on Ridley v. Monroe, 256 Ga.App. 686 (2002), holding that a no-liability settlement has the same effect as a liability settlement. The Court of Appeals split evenly on whether Ridley should be overruled. The Supreme Court held that Ridley was correctly held and the exclusive remedy provision barred Smith from bringing an action for the same injury against anyone except a third-party tortfeasor. As such, Smith argued that Ellis was a third-party tortfeasor rather than a coworker. The Court found that there was enough fact alleged that Ellis was not acting as “an employee of the same employer” to preclude summary judgment since Ellis left his build site that day for “personal reasons” and hid his presence at Smith’s build site from a supervisor.

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

Trial Court Required to Take Remedial Action if Objection to Improper Closing Argument is Sustained.

The Supreme Court recently held that once an objection to improper argument has been sustained in a civil case, the trial court is required to employ some corrective measure to remedy the harm resulting from the impropriety even absent a specific request for such a measure; overruling Garner v. Victory Express, Inc., 264 Ga. 171 (1994), Dascombe v. Hanley, 270 Ga.App. 355 (2004), and Strickland v. Stubbs, 218 Ga.App. 279 (1995). In Stolte v. Fagan, ___ Ga. ____ (WL 3888219) (September 10, 2012), Stolte and her husband sued her dentist and his practice for malpractice claiming that Fagan negligently severed a nerve during a wisdom tooth extraction. The trial court returned a defense verdict. On appeal, Stolte argued that defense counsel improperly encouraged the jury in closing arguments to consider the impact of the claims on Fagan’s professional reputation. Once Stolte’s counsel properly objected, the trial court, as the Supreme Court held, “assumed an independent duty to take some remedial action—a curative instruction or rebuke of counsel, for example—without any additional requests from Stolte’s counsel.” The Court reversed the trial court and Court of Appeals on this issue and remanded regarding another issue related to juror qualifications.

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


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