Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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In 2012, Bryan Harrell was driving his pickup truck at more than 50 miles per hour when he rear-ended the 1999 Jeep in which four-year-old Remington Walden was a rear-seat passenger, with his aunt behind the wheel. The impact left Harrell and Remington’s aunt unhurt, but fractured Remington’s femur. The impact also caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted gas tank to rupture and catch fire. Remington burned to death trying to escape; he lived for up to a minute as he burned, and witnesses heard him screaming. Remington’s parents (“Appellees”) sued both Chrysler and Harrell for wrongful death. At trial, in March and April of 2015, Appellees challenged the Jeep’s vehicle design, arguing that Chrysler should not have used a rear-mounted fuel tank. When questioning Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Mark Chernoby at trial, Appellees’ counsel asked about the CEO’s salary, bonus, and benefits; Marchionne himself was never questioned about his income and benefits. The trial court overruled Chrysler’s repeated relevance and wealth-of-a-party objections to this line of questioning. Appellees’ counsel referenced Marchionne’s compensation testimony again in closing, arguing, “what [Chrysler’s counsel] said Remi’s life was worth, Marchionne made 43 times as much in one year.” The jury determined that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failed to warn of the hazard that killed Remington. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal discussed admission of CEO compensation, holding “evidence of a witness’s relationship to a party is always admissible” and that the CEO’s compensation “made the existence of [the CEO’s] bias in favor of Chrysler more probable.” The Georgia Supreme Court held not that compensation evidence is always admissible to show the bias of an employee witness, or that it is never admissible, but that such evidence is subject to the Rule 403 analysis weighing the evidence’s unfair prejudice against its probative value. Because Chrysler did not raise a Rule 403 objection to the compensation evidence at issue in this appeal, the Supreme Court considered the question not under the ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard, but as a question of plain error. The Court concluded that under the particular circumstances of this case, it could not say that the prejudicial effect of the evidence so far outweighed its probative value that its admission was clear and obvious reversible error. Accordingly, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the rationale of the Court of Appeals, it ultimately affirmed its judgment. View "Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals in the preceding case, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch, 793 SE2d 564 (2016), properly articulated the legal standard for when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence begins and properly applied that standard to the facts of this case. Like a defendant’s duty, a plaintiff’s duty to preserve relevant evidence in her control arises when that party actually anticipates or reasonably should anticipate litigation. Because the Court of Appeals appropriately identified and applied this standard, as did the trial court, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch" on Justia Law

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Appellee Marcella Fletcher was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, which she attributed to years of laundering her father’s asbestos-dust-covered work clothing, and she sued Appellant CertainTeed Corporation, who manufactured the asbestos-laden water pipes with which her father had worked. In her complaint, she alleged, inter alia, negligent design and negligent failure to warn. Before the completion of discovery, the trial court granted CertainTeed’s motion for summary judgment, and Fletcher appealed. A majority of the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment, concluding that CertainTeed had failed to demonstrate, as a matter of law, the absence of evidence that its product was defectively designed. The Court of Appeals also found that a jury question existed as to whether CertainTeed had a duty to warn Fletcher of the risks associated with inhaling asbestos dust. After its review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that CertainTeed owed no duty to warn Fletcher of the possible hazards of asbestos-dust from its products, but that the Court of Appeals correctly reversed the trial court’s judgment with respect to Fletcher’s defective design claim. View "CertainTeed Corp. v. Fletcher" on Justia Law