Georgia City Worker Not Responsible for Car Accident

In Georgia, there are special rules for government employees when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. You cannot sue a municipal employee for any “tort involving the use of a covered motor vehicle while in the performance of his or her official duties.” Instead, you must sue the local government that employed the negligent worker. Georgia law waives sovereign immunity in such cases up to a certain amount of damages.

Guice v. Brown

Recently the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a trial court erred when it failed to dismiss a lawsuit arising from a car accident involving an employee of the City of Rockmart in Polk County. The defendant was installing road signs and driving a city-owned truck. While returning to his office, he decided to cut through a shopping center parking lot to avoid traffic. As the defendant exited the parking lot and attempted to cross several lanes of traffic, he was struck by the plaintiff’s car.

After the plaintiff sued the defendant, the latter moved for summary judgment on the grounds he was acting within the scope of his city employment at the time of the accident. The plaintiff argued the defendant was not immune because he violated several state and local traffic ordinances in the course of the accident. For example, the plaintiff alleged the defendant was “criminally trespassing” on private property—i.e., the shopping center—and that he “interfered with the private property of another.” The trial judge denied the motion for summary judgment and said the plaintiff could present his arguments to a jury.

But the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed. A three-judge panel said none of the plaintiff’s evidence proved the defendant acted outside the scope of his employment. In fact, the appeals court said the plaintiff “failed to present any evidence or legal authority for such a violation.” First, although the plaintiff claimed the defendant violated several local traffic ordinances, he never actually provided the trial court with copies of the original ordinances, which is required by law. Second, there was no evidence the defendant disregarded or disobeyed a traffic signal, as the plaintiff alleged, when the defendant took his shortcut through the parking lot. The appeals court noted, “there is no evidence that he encountered one.”

Nor the did appeals court find merit in the plaintiff’s “criminal trespassing” argument. There was no evidence the defendant entered the shopping center “without authority or for an unlawful purpose.” The shopping center’s owner did not prohibit vehicles passing through the parking lot. Nor could the plaintiff “present any Georgia criminal law or other legal authority for the proposition that traveling across the shopping center without intent to shop there constitutes an unlawful purpose under the law.”

Based on all this, the appeals court concluded the plaintiff had no case. There was no credible evidence the defendant violated any traffic law, so there was no basis for holding that the defendant acted outside the scope of his employment. The Court of Appeals therefore ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment for the defendant.

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