This morning, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that a Georgia statute, , does not preclude an employer's liability for personal injuries resulting from a firearm during the course of the employee's work. The case is Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc., Supreme Court Case No. S17G0541, March 5, 2018.
The plaintiff in the case was injured when an employee of Beckman Coulter, Inc. was visiting a customer, and elected to bring his gun into the meeting after learning of recent vandalism of cars. During the course of the meeting, the employee's gun accidentally discharged, injuring Lucas. Lucas then filed a personal injury claim against the employee and Beckman Coulter.
The both the trial court and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the employer was immune from liability under OCGA § 16-11-135(e), part of the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act. That subsection states, in part, that:
No employer, property owner, or property owner's agent shall be held liable in any criminal or civil action for damages resulting from or arising out of an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession, or use of a firearm, including, but not limited to, the theft of a firearm from an employee's automobile, pursuant to this Code section unless such employer commits a criminal act involving the use of a firearm or unless the employer knew that the person using such firearm would commit such criminal act on the employer's premises.
(Note: this is the current version of the statute. As the Supreme Court noted, the statute has been amended since the version analyzed in the decision was law, but the amendments to not affect the analysis, which applies equally to the current law.)
Based on what they found broad language in this provision, the lower courts ruled that this apparently broad language precluded liability in these circumstances against an employer in a Georgia personal injury lawsuit.
Reversing the lower courts, the Georgia Supreme Court noted that the immunity provided to employers is limited to damages "pursuant to this code section." It analyzed whether that language was limited to the preceding item in the statute ("the theft of a firearm from an employee's automobile") and found that, in fact, the "pursuant to" language applied to the entire provision. Therefore, since the Supreme Court concluded that section was intended to prevent employees from searching employees' vehicles or conditioning employment on an agreement not to bring firearms onto the employers' premises, even if left, locked, in the employee's car, the immunity provision was limited to damages arising from this rule. It was not, then, applicable to damages generally arising, and brought in personal injury lawsuits, from the mere use of a gun by an employee.