Johnson v. Avis Rent-A-Car System, LLCAnnotate this Case
Two cases consolidated for review by the Georgia Supreme Court arose from a car accident that happened after Byron Perry stole a sport utility vehicle (SUV) from a rental lot where he worked and later crashed into Brianna Johnson and Adrienne Smith while Perry was trying to evade police. Plaintiffs Johnson and Smith each filed a lawsuit alleging claims of negligence and vicarious liability against the rental car company, Avis Rent A Car System, LLC and Avis Budget Group (collectively “Avis”), along with Avis’s regional security manager, Peter Duca, Jr.; the rental location’s operator, CSYG, Inc.; and CSYG’s owner, Yonas Gebremichael. Johnson and Smith also sued Perry, the CSYG employee who stole the SUV involved in the accident, although Johnson dismissed Perry before trial. Separate juries found that Johnson and Smith were entitled to recover damages, but both jury verdicts were reversed on appeal. The Court of Appeals concluded Avis, the only entity found liable for compensatory damages in Johnson’s case, was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict (JNOV) on Johnson’s direct negligence claims because Perry’s intervening criminal conduct was the proximate cause of Johnson’s injuries. In Smith’s case, the Court of Appeal concluded any breach of duty to secure the car rental lot and the stolen SUV was not the proximate cause of Smith’s injuries (due to Perry’s intervening criminal conduct), and CSYG and Gebremichael were entitled to a directed verdict on Smith’s claims that they negligently hired and retained Perry, because Perry was not acting “under color of employment” at the time that he collided with Smith. The Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the defendants could not be held liable to Johnson and Smith as a matter of law under the facts of these cases. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in both cases.