Juries Are Allowed to Apportion Damages to Criminal Assailants in Premises Liability Cases

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.

Please let me know if you would like a copy of this opinion.

About the Author

Michael Rust graduated from Emory University in 1980 and Emory University School of Law in 1983 where he was Notes and Comments editor of the Emory Law Journal (Law Review). Since that time, he has maintained an active trial practice in the state of Georgia both in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Rust teaches litigation as part of Emory University School of Law’s annual Trial Practice Program. He has received AV rating from Martindale Hubble, the highest rating afforded to lawyers by their peers.