AVIS RENT A CAR SYSTEM, LLC et al.
SMITH. CSYG, INC. et al.
MCFADDEN, C. J., MCMILLIAN, P. J., and MERCIER, J.
McFadden, Chief Judge.
Danielle Smith 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 Avis Rent A Car
System, LLC, Avis Budget Group, Inc., and Peter Duca, a
regional security manager for Avis (together,
"Avis"), as well as CSYG, Inc., the operator of the
downtown Avis location, and Yonas Gebremichael, CSYG's
owner. Smith also sued Byron Perry, the former CSYG employee
who stole the vehicle.
10-day trial, the jury returned a $47 million verdict in
favor of Smith apportioned among the defendants. Avis filed a
motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the
alternative, for new trial, Perry filed a motion for new
trial (which he later dismissed), and CSYG and Gebremichael
filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or,
in the alternative, for new trial. The trial court denied the
motions. Avis, CSYG, and Gebremichael appeal.
opinion in the companion case, Avis Rent-a-Car System v.
Johnson, __ Ga.App. __ (__ S.E.2d __) (Case No.
A19A0928, decided October 31, 2019), holds that Perry's
intervening criminal acts were the proximate cause of the
injuries inflicted here. Accordingly we now hold that
Perry's intervening criminal acts were the proximate
cause of Smith's injuries, so the defendants are entitled
to judgment on her claims arising from the defendants'
alleged failure to secure the vehicle and the premises; that
the trial court erred by entering judgment against Avis Rent
A Car System and Avis Budget Group for the percentages of
fault the jury apportioned to CSYG, Gebremichael, and Duca;
that the trial court erred by denying CSYG and
Gebremichael's motion for directed verdict on any claim
that they are vicariously liable for Perry's negligence;
that Perry was not acting under color of employment when he
committed his criminal acts, so CSYG and Gebremichael are
entitled to judgment on Smith's negligent hiring and
retention claims; and that Gebremichael cannot be held
personally liable. So we reverse in both cases.
Facts and procedural posture.
in the light most favorable to Smith, 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 at 7 p.m.
and Perry and the other employees had left the premises,
Perry apparently returned and stole a Ford Edge sport utility
vehicle from the lot. Perry intended to sell the vehicle.
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. Smith and her friend,
Brianna Johnson, were sitting on the wall at the time of the
collision and were seriously injured. The location of the
collision was 20 minutes away from the Avis lot. Perry, who
was in the vehicle, fled from the scene and later pled guilty
to multiple crimes arising from the incident, including
serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, hit and run,
fleeing or attempting to elude police, and theft by taking.
filed this lawsuit to recover for her injuries, and the jury
returned a $47 million verdict in her favor against all
defendants. The jury returned a special verdict, finding that
Avis Rent a Car System, LLC and Avis Budget Group, Inc. were
50 percent at fault; CSYG, Inc. was 15 percent at fault;
Gebremichael and Duca were each 1 percent at fault; and Perry
was 33 percent at fault. (The jury also found that "N.
O.," an unidentified person whom Perry claimed was
involved in the theft of the vehicle, was zero percent at
fault.) The jury found that CSYG was an employee of Avis Rent
A Car System, LLC and Avis Budget Group, Inc. Finally, it
found that only Perry was liable to Smith for punitive
appeals follow the trial court's denial of Avis's and
CSYG and Gebremichael's motions for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for new
Failing to secure the vehicle and premises and negligent
hiring and retention.
held in Avis Rent A Car System v. Johnson, __
Ga.App. __, __ (2) (b) (__ S.E.2d __) (Case No. A19A0928,
decided October 31, 2019), any breach of duty to secure the
premises and the stolen vehicle was not the proximate cause
of Smith's injuries, given Perry's intervening
criminal conduct. So the defendants were entitled to judgment
as a matter of law on Smith's claims arising from the
defendants' alleged failure to secure the vehicle and
premises, see id., and we will next address those issues
arising from CSYG and Gebremichael's employment of Perry,
including the imposition of vicarious liability on Avis for
the fault apportioned to them.
Judgment's imposition of vicarious liability for
fault apportioned to CSYG and Gebremichael.
argues that the trial court erred by entering judgment
against Avis for the percentages of fault apportioned ...