Under Georgia law, an injured person must prove four elements in order to establish a cause of action for negligence: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. A failure to prove any one of the elements by a preponderance of the evidence will lead to a judgment for the defendant.
While most negligence cases are based upon an action (or a failure to act) by the defendant, it is within the province of the jury to find a defendant liable for injuries that resulted from an intervening act (such as a crime committed by a third party), but this is so only if the intervening act was foreseeable, and the defendant could have, with due diligence, prevented it.
Facts of the Case
In a recent Georgia case, the plaintiff was a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) during a dental procedure performed at the defendant dental practice. According to the plaintiff, the assault took place during a time in which she was heavily sedated. According to court documents, the CRNA made video recordings of his molestation of the plaintiff and other anesthetized patients; he also used his cell phone to record some of the defendant's employees in the office restroom.
The plaintiff filed suit against both the CRNA and the defendant, but she opted to withdraw her claims against the CRNA after he was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison. Her negligence per se and professional negligence claims against the defendant proceeded to trial. The trial court entered judgment on the jury's verdict in the plaintiff's favor.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the defendant sought a writ of certiorari from the state supreme court.
The Supreme Court of Georgia's Decision
The Supreme Court reversed the intermediate court of appeals' decision, holding that the trial court should have granted the defendant's motion for a directed verdict. In so holding, the court opined that the plaintiff had failed to prove the element of proximate cause at trial.
The Court stated that, clearly, the CRNA's criminal acts intervened between the defendant's breach of duty and the harm suffered by the plaintiff. The defendant was only liable to the plaintiff if the CRNA's actions were foreseeable. While the question of the foreseeability of an intervening criminal act is usually for the factfinder, the court held that, here, the evidence on the matter was "plain and undisputable" - and in the defendant's favor.
Talk to a Lawyer About an Atlanta Personal Injury Case
There are many different ways in which the negligence of an individual, business, or governmental entity can result in serious harm or even a wrongful death to an innocent person. Since the statute of limitations limits the time for filing a claim, you should contact an Atlanta personal injury attorney as soon as possible if you believe that you or a loved one has been hurt by another party's failure to act in a reasonably prudent manner. The Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, will be glad to talk to you about your case. Simply call us at (678) 894-4758 to schedule a free consultation.