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Amicus Brief by Balch & Bingham Team Helps Secure Win in Georgia Apportionment Statute Dispute

On October 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed a trial court's decision to halve a settlement awarded in Johns v. Suzuki Motor of America, Inc, a case in which Balch’s Anne Kaufold-Wiggins, Dart Meadows, Jim Hollis and Patrick Silloway, members of the firm’s Product Liability & Casualty Litigation Practices based in our Atlanta office, authored the amicus brief filed by the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association (GDLA). 

The Underlying Case

After injuring himself in a motorcycle accident, the plaintiff brought a suit against the motorcycle manufacturer and its American distributor. Although a jury awarded the plaintiff $12.5 million in damages, they also asserted that the plaintiff was 49% responsible for the accident, and the award was reduced by half. 

The Challenge

The plaintiff challenged the trial court's decision to reduce the award, arguing apportionment was not appropriate in, and fundamentally incompatible with, strict products liability cases. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing apportionment was not appropriate in, and fundamentally incompatible with, strict products liability cases. Although a Georgia Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiffs' arguments, the Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether an award in a strict liability case may be reduced in accordance with fault under the apportionment statute. 

The Resolution 

Anne Kaufold-Wiggins, Dart Meadows, Jim Hollis and Patrick Silloway wrote an amicus brief which was then submitted by the GDLA in support of the defendant-appellees. The brief argued that the plain text of the statute requires its application to strict products liability cases, and there is no incompatibility between the apportionment statute enacted in 2005 and Georgia's strict liability statutes. Unanimously affirming the trial court's decision, the Georgia Supreme Court also agreed with the amicus brief that pre-2005 case law, relied on by the plaintiffs, was not a bar to reducing the plaintiffs' award and went onto support the current language of  OCGA § 51-12-33 (a), denying any opportunity for an exception to be made in the statute for strict products liability claims. 

About the Team

 

Anne Kaufold-Wiggins is a partner in Balch’s Product Liability & Casualty Litigation, Commercial & Class Action and Issues & Appeals Practices. She successfully defends her clients at every stage of litigation, including in trial, upon dispositive motions, and on appeal. Anne regularly handles a wide variety of litigation, including high stakes personal injury and wrongful death cases, fire cause and origin claims, complex commercial litigation, class actions, environmental torts, and other energy-related litigation. Anne is the GDLA’s Amicus Committee Vice-Chair. 

Dart Meadows is a partner in Balch’s Litigation, Product Liability & Casualty Litigation and Commercial & Class Action Practices. A trial lawyer with over 36 years of experience in successfully resolving a wide variety of complex disputes, Dart has tried dozens of cases in state and federal court in Georgia and other states and his focus is on business litigation, product liability, healthcare, and real estate litigation. Dart is the GDLA’s Treasurer. 

Jim Hollis is a partner in Balch’s Litigation and Product Liability & Casualty Litigation Practices. His practice focuses on product liability and complex commercial litigation. Dart frequently represents designers and manufacturers of products in class actions, mass torts, and individual claims involving serious bodily injury or death. He also represents a variety of companies in complex business disputes and class actions, as well as bidders in government contract disputes and has experience in construction litigation.

Patrick Silloway is a member of Balch’s Litigation and Issues & Appeals Practices. His practice focuses on all areas of litigation. Patrick joined Balch & Bingham after completing clerkships with The Honorable W. Homer Drake of the United States Bankruptcy Court in Newnan, Georgia, and The Honorable Daniel Manion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.