The latest amendment to Georgia's apportionment law is a favorable development for defendants in negligence cases. The law amends Georgia's apportionment statute O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33(b) to provide for apportionment of damages in cases with a single defendant. It was signed into law by Governor Kemp on May 13, 2022 and became effective immediately, applying to all causes of action accruing on or after the effective date.
Historically and since its enactment in 2005, defendants have requested that the jury apportion damages to all parties and non-parties regardless of the number of defendants named in a negligence action. Despite years of the statute's application to cases involving single defendants, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a legal fiction in Alston & Bird, LLP v. Hatcher Mgmt. Holdings, LLC, 312 Ga. 350, 862 S.E.2d 295 (2021). The Court held that a jury may only apportion damages to non-parties when there are multiple named defendants in the case leaving room for only the named defendant and plaintiff on the verdict form. According to the Court, the statute only allows for damages to be reduced or apportioned based on any percentage of fault of the plaintiff. Additionally, the Georgia Court of Appeals held in November 2021 that, even if a Plaintiff sues multiple defendants and later dismisses all but one of the defendants, then the jury may not apportion any damages to those dismissed defendants. Ga. CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. Carmichael, 362 Ga. App. 59, 865 S.E.2d 559 (2021).
Specifics of the Revised Apportionment Law
The amendment to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 has codified the historical application of apportionment in single defendant cases. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 now provides that where an action is brought against "one or more persons for injury to person or property, the trier of fact, in its determination of the total amount of damages to be awarded shall apportion its award of damages among the person or persons who are liable according to the percentage of fault of each person."
The full text of the bill may be found here: https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/61081
What the Revised Law Means for Georgia Litigators
The new legislation is significant because it confirms the legislature's intent that apportionment of damages to non-parties is appropriate in both single and multidefendant cases based on their percentage of fault. The amendment to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 sets the clock back to pre-2021 and clarifies the appropriate application of the statute.