In 2005, the Georgia Legislature abolished joint and several liability in tort cases. Because those changes applied only to claims arising after their enactment, cases applying those changes in the law are only now reaching the Georgia appellate courts. The Georgia appellate courts are beginning to work through their ramifications.
In District Owners Assoc., Inc. v. AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., Case No. A13A0621 (decided July 8, 2013), the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed whether or not there exists a right of contribution among tortfeasors after the abolition of joint and several liability. The case was a premises liability claim against the owner of a parking deck. The owner of the parking deck filed a third-party complaint against the designers and contractors involved in the construction of the parking deck. The owner of the parking deck alleged that if it was liable, it was entitled to contribution from the designers and builders. The trial court dismissed those third-party claims, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court concluded that the abolition of joint and several liability also abolished the common law right of contribution among tortfeasors.
That a defendant cannot seek contribution by adding third-party defendants does not mean that those parties’ potential liability is not accounted for. A defendant can file a notice prior to trial identifying non-parties as being at fault. If evidence is presented at trial of the non-party’s fault, the jury will determine the percentage of responsibility of that non-party, thereby reducing the liability of the defendants. However, because a party cannot be added as a defendant to the case, its resources will not be present for settlement discussions prior to trial.