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GEORGIA COURT OF APPEALS CLARIFIES STANDARD OF CARE FOR COMMON CARRIERS OF PASSENGERS

Posted by H. Lee Pruett

When a transit company’s employee assaults a passenger, can the company be held strictly liable? In Laidlaw Transit Servs., Inc. v. Young, Case No. A09A1525 (Ga. Ct. App., Aug. 20, 2009), the Georgia Court of Appeals said no, strict liability did not apply.

In this transportation case, the trial court granted the transit company’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention, but the court denied defendant company’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of “absolute liability.” Defendant company appealed that ruling and the Court of Appeals reversed.

Quoting Mattox v. MARTA, 200 Ga. App. 697 (1991), the Court held that “a common carrier of passengers is not an absolute and unqualified insurer of the safety of its passengers.” Instead, the carrier must meet a standard of “extraordinary diligence.”

While this standard is more stringent than ordinary care, it is something less than strict liability. The Court distinguished the standard found in O.C.G.A. § 46-9-1, which provides that a common carrier of goods is liable for damages “unless the loss was occasioned by the act of God or the public enemies of the state.”

The Court also distinguished Bricks v. Metro Ambulance Serv., Inc., 177 Ga. App. 62 (1985), first, because the case was physical precedent only, and second, because it involved liability for an ambulance passenger’s loss of a diamond ring, not for physical injury. The Laidlaw Court held, therefore, that the trial court erred in denying summary judgment to the defendant common carrier on the plaintiff’s claim of strict liability.

Thus, though it may appear ironic, Georgia law imposes strict liability on a common carrier for damages to goods, but holds the carrier of passengers to a lesser standard for personal injuries.