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Legal Alert: Good News for Defendant Manufacturers

Walker v. Tensor Machinery, Ltd.

December 10, 2015

A recent Georgia Supreme Court opinion means good news for defendant manufacturers in certain types of product liability lawsuits.  In Walker v. Tensor Machinery, Ltd., No. S15Q1222, 2015 WL 7135149 (Ga. Nov. 16, 2015) the Court ruled that a manufacturer in a product liability action brought by an employee can apportion fault to the non-party employer for the employer’s negligence, regardless of whether the non-party employer is shielded from liability under the Workers’ Compensation Act. 

This decision potentially reduces a defendant’s financial obligation to a plaintiff, without creating any financial obligation for the non-party employer involved.

In Walker, an employee was injured by a machine at work.  He reached a settlement with his employer for workers’ compensation benefits.  The employee then brought a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the machine.  In the course of litigation, the defendant manufacturer asserted that the employer should share the blame because the employer negligently handled the machine.

Under the old Georgia rule, courts interpreted employer’s immunity under the Workers’ Compensation Act to mean that the employer was shielded from fault as well.  The result of this interpretation was that the remaining parties in a lawsuit would have to pick up the tab from the employer’s fault, potentially paying more than their share in order to make up for the excluded employer.

The new rule set forth in Walker establishes that even though a non-party employer may be shielded from any liability in the claim, there is nothing that prevents a defendant from allocating fault to the non-party employer if the employer was negligent. 

Therefore, defendants in product liability actions no longer have to assume financial responsibility for a negligent non-party employer.  This is a fair and equitable ruling.  After all, immunity from liability does not mean that a party is not at fault, it simply means that a party cannot get sued.  Fortunately for defendants, the Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed the idea that a defendant manufacturer in a products liability suit can no longer be held legally liable for the negligent acts of another.

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