Writing for a majority of the Court, Justice Melton found that the rules of statutory construction, including reliance on ordinary word meanings, dictate that an assailant who evades hotel security to intentionally abduct, rob, and assault a hotel guest is, at the very least, partially at “fault” for the brutal injuries inflicted by the assailant on that guest. As a party at fault, such an assailant must be included with others who may be at fault such as the property owner in a premises liability action for purposes of apportioning damages among all wrongdoing parties. That is the clear directive of the Georgia apportionment statute, OCGA § 51-12-33.
The arguments against application of the apportionment statute to intentional criminal conduct centered on the interpretation of the word “fault.” The plaintiff contended that “fault” as used in the statute did not include intentional conduct. According to the Supreme Court, however, the ordinary meaning of “fault” includes intentional conduct and if the legislature had intended to exclude intentional conduct from that definition it could have and would have done so. “Fault” is not a term of art but is a word of general use to be given its ordinary and every day meaning. Fault is not meant to be synonymous with negligence, according to the Court, but includes other types of wronging such as intentional acts.
It is clear now that in any premises liability case involving a criminal assault, a jury will be allowed to apportion damages to the criminal assailant, whether known or unknown.
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