Our apologies for the delay in posting this week’s opinions. The practice of law and hearings on Friday and this morning interfered with our efforts, which should now be remedied through this posting.
On Monday, July 2, 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia released opinions in 12 cases, two of which are civil within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases and the decisions are below.
This case involves whether an injured employee’s later injury constituted a “fictional new injury” or a “change in condition.” Scott was injured in a workplace accident in 1996, resulting in the partial amputation of her foot. Scott was on temporary total disability for approximately ten months, and then returned to work. But as a result of the prosthesis she had to wear, she had significant knee problems and underwent knee surgery in 1997. Scott continued to work for the next 12 years, but the knee problems and pain associated with them became progressively worse. Eventually her physician recommended she stop working altogether in September 2009, and she sought workers’ compensation benefits. Scott argued her inability to work was the result of a fictional new injury on the date her doctor first held her out of work. Shaw argued that her inability to work was because of a change in condition, and thus the statute of limitations barred her claim. The ALJ awarded benefits, and the full Board affirmed the award. Shaw appealed to the superior court, which also affirmed the award. Shaw then filed a discretionary appeal.
The Court of Appeals (Dillard, Smith, Mikell) unanimously reversed the lower decisions, concluding that the injury could only be characterized as a change in condition because the Scott originally received benefits, returned to work, and only gradually worsened. The Court of Appeals found that, because the injury was a change of condition, the statute of limitations barred her new claims.
On March 19, 2012, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in a 4-3 vote (Carley, Benham, and Thompson dissenting) to consider the following question:
- Did the Court of Appeals err in concluding that the concept of a “fictional new accident” cannot apply to situations where an employee who has suffered a compensable injury returns to work after receiving workers’ compensation benefits as a result of that injury and thereafter suffers a progressive worsening of his condition that forces the employee to cease work. Central State Hosp. v. James, 147 Ga. App. 308 (1978); R.R. Donnelley v. Ogletree, 312 Ga. App. 475 (2011).
The case was heard at oral argument on June 4, 2012.
This case began when John Glass, a Troup County inmate, was killed while on a prison work detail. Glass was operating a tractor and Donrell Gates was the corrections officer supervising the detail. When one of the tractors became stuck, Gates allegedly failed to call the prison work camp. While Glass was assisting in pulling that tractor out of a ditch, he was struck by a rock in the throat and died. Glass’s family sued, claiming his death resulted from negligent supervision of the work detail. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the claims were barred by sovereign immunity and official immunity and plaintiffs appealed.
The Court of Appeals (Barnes, Adams, Blackwell) unanimously reversed in part and vacated in part, finding that the trial court used the wrong definition of “motor vehicle” and that there was a dispute over the material fact of whether Gates failed to carry out a ministerial act. The Court of Appeals explained that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on sovereign immunity had to be vacated because the tractor and bush hog qualified as “any motor vehicle” under the statute. Under precedent, because the vehicle was capable of being driven on the public roads and was covered by the liability insurance policy of the county, bringing it within the definition of “any motor vehicle” and potentially waiving sovereign immunity. The passage of a 2002 revision to the sovereign immunity law did not change the definition of “any motor vehicle,” according to the panel, but the waiver of sovereign immunity had not been fully briefed by the parties. The Court of Appeals also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether there was a departmental policy to contact the work camp when a tractor became stuck, reversing the grant of summary judgment on that issue.
On January 23, 2012, the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in a 4-3 vote (Thompson, Hines, Nahmias dissenting) to consider the following question:
- Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the definition of “any motor vehicle” in OCGA § 33-24-51(a) continues to be the broader definition of the term provided for in prior case law, notwithstanding the 2002 passage of House Bill 1128?
The case was heard at oral argument on April 27, 2012.
On July 2, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Court of Appeals. Writing for the Court, Justice Thompson explained that the broader definition of “motor vehicle” set forth in OCGA § 33-24-51 applies because the legislature specifically incorporated that definition.