AVIS RENT A CAR SYSTEM, LLC et al.
JOHNSON; and vice versa.
MCFADDEN, C. J., MCMILLIAN, P. C. and MERCIER, J.
McFadden, Chief Judge.
Johnson was seriously injured when she was struck by a sport
utility vehicle that had been stolen from an Avis car rental
lot in downtown Atlanta. She sued appellants Avis Rent A Car
System, LLC, Avis Budget Group, Inc., and Peter Duca, a
regional security manager for Avis Budget Group (together,
Avis), as well as CSYG, Inc., the operator of the downtown
Avis location, and Yonas Gebremichael, CSYG's owner.
(Johnson also sued Byron Perry, the former CSYG employee who
stole the vehicle, but she dismissed him without prejudice
13-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that
Johnson was entitled to recover from Avis Rent A Car System
and Avis Budget Group, but not from CSYG, Gebremichael, or
Duca, and awarded Johnson $7 million in damages.
filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or,
in the alternative, for a new trial as to liability. The
trial court denied the motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict but granted a new trial as to liability. Avis
appeals the denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict. Johnson appeals the grant of Avis's motion
for new trial on the issue of liability.
that under longstanding Georgia authority, any breach of duty
was not the proximate cause of Johnson's injuries, so
Avis is entitled to judgment on Johnson's claims based on
Avis's own negligence. We also hold that the jury's
exoneration of Avis's employees requires judgment in
Avis's favor on Johnson's claims based on Avis's
vicarious liability. So we reverse the denial of Avis's
motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and dismiss
as moot Johnson's appeal from the grant of new trial.
Facts and procedural posture.
in the light most favorable to Johnson, Jones v.
Sperau, 275 Ga. 213 (1) (563 S.E.2d 863) (2002), the
trial evidence showed that CSYG operated an Avis car rental
lot on Courtland Street in downtown Atlanta. CSYG hired Byron
Perry to wash and refuel cars at the location. On the night
of August 23, 2013, after the Avis lot had closed, Perry
stole a Ford Edge sport utility vehicle from the lot,
intending to sell it.
Ford Edge was driven around Atlanta at regular speeds for
hours. But shortly before midnight, five hours after the lot
had closed, the driver of the stolen Ford Edge was fleeing
from police when the vehicle crashed into a brick wall.
Johnson and her friend, Adrienne Smith, were sitting on the
wall at the time of the collision and were seriously injured.
Perry, who was in the vehicle, fled from the scene and later
pled guilty to multiple crimes arising from the incident,
including theft by taking, failure to maintain lane,
attempting to elude police, reckless driving, and hit and
filed this lawsuit. She alleged that Avis was liable for
negligently failing to secure its vehicle and for negligently
hiring, training, supervising, and retaining Gebremichael and
CSYG. She also alleged that Avis was vicariously liable for
Gebremichael's and CSYG's negligence.
jury returned a verdict in favor of Johnson for $7 million.
On the special verdict form, the jury found that Avis Rent A
Car System and Avis Budget Group were 100 percent at fault.
It found that Duca, CSYG, Gebremichael, and Perry, the
vehicle thief, were zero percent at fault. Finally, it found
that the Avis defendants, CSYG, and Gebremichael were not
liable for punitive damages, but that Perry (who was no
longer a party) was liable for punitive damages.
filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or in
the alternative for a new trial as to liability. The trial
court denied the motion for judgment notwithstanding the
verdict, finding, among other things, that Avis knew of the
risk of car thefts and that the harm to Johnson was a
reasonably foreseeable consequence of car theft. The trial
court granted the motion for new trial as to liability. It
found that the verdict was contrary to the evidence or
strongly against the weight of the evidence. See OCGA
§§ 5-5-20, 5-5-21. The court found that because the
"[j]ury's verdict did not find any negligence on the
part of CSYG, Yonas Gebremichael, Peter Duca or Byron Perry,
the evidence [did] not support a finding of liability on the
part of Avis." The trial court certified its order for
immediate review, we granted the parties' applications
for interlocutory appeal, and these appeals followed. We
first address issues regarding Johnson's claims that Avis
is liable for its own negligence. We then address issues
regarding Johnson's claims that Avis is vicariously
liable for its employees' negligence. We hold that Avis
is entitled to judgment on all claims.
Avis's direct negligence.
argues that it was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the
verdict on Johnson's claims that it negligently failed to
secure the vehicle and negligently hired and supervised CSYG
and Gebremichael, because it owed Johnson no duty and the
proximate cause of Johnson's injuries was Perry's
intervening criminal act. We hold that Perry's
intervening criminal act was ...