Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal in Auto Shop Negligent Training Case

tiresSometimes I read Georgia car accident appeals cases and I am astounded at the stupidity of some of the claims that plaintiff’s lawyers will bring. This is the legal analysis for a case where the plaintiff was terribly injured and tried to blame the crash on the installation of two new tires on the front two wheels instead of the rear two wheels. This claim would make sense if placing them one axle versus the other left bald tires onboard. But it didn’t. Instead this plaintiff and their lawyer brought suit when the crash happened, wait for it; TWO YEARS AFTER THE TIRES WERE INSTALLED. Come on people, there is a reason the public gets angry with some lawsuits. This is a frivolous case. Now, onto the legal analysis of the interesting part which says that in the right case, the prior owner of a business can maintain responsibility for something happening after they sell if they negligently trained the employee who screwed up. Cool theory.

Georgia law places a duty on employers to ensure that their employees are properly trained and supervised. However, although the duty to reasonably train employees is well-established, the other doctrinal limitations imposed on negligence liability continue to play a significant role in confining the viability of many claims. For instance, in a recent decision, Edwards v. Campbell, the Georgia Court of Appeals reaffirmed the importance of causation in limiting the reach of negligence claims.

Edwards started on April 14, 2011, when the plaintiff’s grandmother took a trip to Campbell Tire Company (“CTC”). CTC had originally been owned and operated by Edward Campbell, but Campbell sold the company to Lanham Enterprises, LLC in April 2009. In an asset purchase agreement executed in conjunction with this sale, Campbell agreed to provided 60 days of training to Joel Lanham, the owner of Lanham Enterprises, LLC, who had no prior experience in the tire business. At the time of sale, it was Lanham’s understanding that the CTC employees had been there for a long time and had been primarily trained by Campbell. During the course of the aforementioned training, Campbell told Lanham that when a customer only purchases two new tires, the tires should be placed on the front axle, and Lanham believed this to be normal industry practice.

About two years following this sale, the plaintiff’s grandmother made the aforementioned trip to CTC and purchased two new tires. In accordance with the guidance from Campbell, the two front tires were installed on the front axle. Less than a month following the purchase of the tire, the plaintiff was driving his grandmother’s vehicle when he lost control, resulting in an accident and injuries. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought suit against Campbell, among others. With respect to Campbell, the plaintiff alleged that Campbell’s training of Lanham and the employees at CTC was negligent and inconsistent with standard automotive and engineering principles and that this negligent training led to a tire installation that made the vehicle unreasonably dangerous. Specifically, the plaintiff asserted that common practice dictated that the new tires be installed on the rear axle, rather than the front axle.

At the conclusion of discovery, Campbell moved for summary judgment on the claims brought against him, arguing, in pertinent part, that the passage in time between the sale of CTC and the purportedly negligent installation extinguished any duty he owed to the plaintiff. The trial court granted the motion, holding that although Campbell did owe a legal duty to the plaintiff, the plaintiff could not establish, as a matter of law, proximate cause between the training and the ultimate negligent installation. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the claims against Campbell, and the plaintiff then brought the current appeal.

All negligence claims require proof of four essential elements:  duty, breach, causation, and harm.  See, e.g., Rasnick v. Krishna Hosp., Inc., 289 Ga. 565, 566 (2011) (explaining that a viable viable negligence claim requires “the existence of a duty on the part of the defendant, a breach of that duty, causation of the alleged injury, and damages resulting from the alleged breach of the duty”). To satisfy the causation element, one must not only establish that there is direct causationi.e., that the harm can be directly traced to the defendant’s negligence—but also prove that “proximate causation” exists. Proximate cause is “a limit on legal liability” that precludes recovery when the connection between “the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury [is] too remote for the law to countenance recovery.” Delta Airlines, Inc. v. Townsend, 279 Ga. 511, 515 (2005). For proximate cause to be shown, the harm suffered by the plaintiff must be among the “natural and probable consequences of the tortfeasor’s negligence.” Granger v. MST Transp., LLC, 329 Ga. App. 268, 270 (2014). Even if the harm is among those natural and probable consequences, however, proximate cause may still be lacking for other reasons, including those situations when there is a “sufficient independent intervening cause” of the plaintiff’s harm. Id. An intervening cause will not preclude a finding of a causal connection, however, if the intervening cause is itself is a probable or natural consequence[] [that] could [have] reasonably . . . been anticipated, apprehended, or foreseen by the original wrong-doer.” Ontario Sewing Mach. Co. v. Smith, 275 Ga. 683, 686 (2002).

In this case, the Court of Appeals found that there was a sufficient independent intervening cause precluding a finding of proximate cause in the plaintiff’s negligent training claim. Specifically, the Court of Appeals reasoned that even if it assumed that Campbell was negligent in his training of Lanham and the CTC employees, it was not a natural and probable consequence of this training that Lanham and his employees would, for more than two years, blindly follow these instructions without independently confirming the industry standards or otherwise staying abreast of possible changes in safety standards. Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted that the harm suffered by the plaintiff would be more attributable to Campbell’s breach of his distinct duty to ensure that he was selling and installing safe tires. Since it would be unusual or only remotely possible that Campbell would abdicate his independent legal obligations for such a considerable period of time, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff could not, as a matter of law, establish proximate cause on his negligent training claim against Campbell. See, e.g., Atlanta Gas Light Co. v. Gresham, 260 Ga. 391, 392-93 (1990) (explaining that the one is not obligated “to guard against what is unusual and unlikely to happen or what, as it is sometimes said, is only remotely and slightly probable”). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the claim.

Although asserting a claim against Campbell may, on its face, seem like a stretch, it is common practice in litigation to assert claims against all possibly negligent parties. Indeed, harm in many circumstances is attributable to the conduct of more than one person, and a failure to assert claims against all the possibly liable parties could lead to litigation of those claims being barred in a later lawsuit. Accordingly, if you’ve been harmed as a result of possible negligence, you should consider finding counsel prepared to help you investigate each possible claim and all potentially liable parties. The Atlanta car accident attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law are well versed in trial litigation in both state and federal courts, and they are prepared to offer assistance with a possible claim. If you’ve recently been harmed and are curious about your legal options, feel free to contact us to schedule a complimentary case consultation.

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