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Archer Forestry, LLC v. Dolatowski

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 27, 2015

ARCHER FORESTRY, LLC et al.
v.
DOLATOWSKI

Negligence. DeKalb Superior Court. Before Judge Adams.

Carlock, Copeland & Stair, Frederick M. Valz III, L. Elizabeth Albright, The Godsey Firm, J. Gregory Godsey, for appellants.

Jenkins & Bowen, Frank E. Jenkins III, Robert L. Walker, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 379

Phipps, Chief Judge.

Mary Jean Franklin Dolatowski sustained injuries when the vehicle she was driving collided with a vehicle being driven by Steven Ray Archer. At the time of the collision, at about 2:00 p.m. on November 20, 2008, Archer was driving home in his employer's vehicle. In her ensuing tort action, Dolatowski named numerous defendants, including Archer and his employer, Archer Forestry, LLC (collectively, the Archer Defendants). Dolatowski claimed that the Archer Defendants were liable to her under theories of negligence.

The Archer Defendants filed a joint motion for summary judgment. Therein, they challenged Dolatowski's claims for punitive damages on the ground that she had failed to adduce sufficient evidence therefor; alternatively, they sought a ruling that, given the evidence adduced, any award of punitive damages must be statutorily capped. Contesting liability, Archer Forestry argued that there was no evidence to support a finding of respondeat superior; and both defendants argued that Dolatowski was barred from any recovery due to her own (alleged) negligent driving and failure to avoid the consequences of their (alleged) negligence. The trial court entered a [331 Ga.App. 677] detailed order, rejecting the Archer Defendants' arguments that the evidence failed to justify punitive damages and failed to show respondeat superior. The court made no ruling, however, as to their remaining two challenges.

In this appeal, the Archer Defendants maintain that they were entitled to rulings in their favor on each ground asserted.[1] For reasons that follow, we reverse the rulings made by the trial court and remand the case for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Summary judgment is proper " if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." [2] " Thus, to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." [3] " In our de novo review of the grant [or denial] of a motion for summary judgment, we must view the evidence, and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." [4]

1. The Archer Defendants contend that the trial court erred by concluding that they were not entitled to summary judgment on Dolatowski's claims for punitive damages, maintaining that Dolatowski failed to adduce evidence that would authorize such an award.

Pursuant to OCGA § 51-12-5.1 (b),

[p]unitive damages may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.

Page 380

Citing that statutory provision, the Supreme Court of Georgia has [331 ...


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