On June 12, 2019, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of a Fulton County State Court judge in a case involving serious personal injuries to a customer of Andretti Indoor Karting and Games (formally AIKG, LLC) in the Metro Atlanta area after her vehicle was pushed into an unpadded wall at the Andretti facility. The injured plaintiff alleged that the vehicles were traveling too fast and that her go-kart was defective because the brakes were not operating properly. The jury awarded the plaintiff $2 million, and the trial court entered judgment for $1.28 million based on apportionment of fault to another driver and the plaintiff. Atlanta personal injury attorney John Hadden was hired to handle the appeal on behalf of the injured victim. The case was AIKG, LLC v. Marshall, Court of Appeals Case No. A19A0322, --- Ga. App. ---, --- S.E.2d --- (July 12, 2019).
The only issue ultimately in dispute on appeal was whether Andretti's counsel had improperly used its strikes to exclude African-American prospective jurors from the jury. In Georgia, as in many other states, parties are permitted to unilaterally strike a certain number of jurors from a prospective juror panel. These are called "peremptory strikes" or sometimes "peremptory challenges." This is in contrast to "strikes for cause" or "challenges" for cause," in which the prospective juror is removed from the panel due to being unable to fairly evaluate the case, due, for example, to having a close relationship with the party or simply having expressed an inability, either explicitly or otherwise, to be impartial to one or the other of the parties. Generally, with peremptory strikes, parties can remove jurors from consideration from being on the jury for any reason. But these strikes have a limit.
In 1986, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 SCt 1712, 90 LEd2d 69 (1986), that in criminal cases, a prosecutor could not, under, among other things, the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, strike a black juror solely because of his or her race. The rule was subsequently expanded to apply to civil cases as well, but the U.S. Supreme Court in Edmondson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U. S. 614, 111 SCt 2077, 114 LEd2d 660 (1991). Thus, a party in a civil trial can not exclude jurors through a peremptory strike simply because of race.
In considering a peremptory strike that is allegedly based on race, both states and federal courts apply the following three-step test, which arises out of United States Supreme Court rulings:
First, the opponent of a peremptory challenge must make a prima facie showing of racial discrimination. Second, the burden of production then shifts to the proponent of the strike to give a race-neutral reason for the strike. Third, after hearing from the opponent of the strike and considering the totality of the circumstances, the trial court then decides whether the opponent of the strike carried his burden of proving discriminatory intent in fact motivated the strike.
Citations: Freeman v. State, 253 Ga. App. 401, 402 (2002) (emphasis added); Toomer v. State, 292 Ga. 49, 52 (2012); Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767 (1995).
In the recent Georgia Court of Appeals case, Andretti at trial struck five jurors using peremptory strikes, all of whom were African-American. The injured victim's attorneys argued that this was racially discriminatory, and raised what is known as a "Batson challenge." After much back and with the judge, including Andretti's reasons why they claimed the strikes were race-neutral and not discriminatory, the Fulton County trial judge ultimately found 4 of the 5 strikes racially discriminatory, and allowed those jurors to remain on the jury.
On appeal, Andretti argued that its claimed race-neutral reasons were sufficient, and that the judge had not properly conducted the three-step Batson analysis as required by law. Following oral argument by John Hadden before the Court on January 24, 2019, a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the Fulton County trial court had properly considered, and rejected, Andretti's explanations. Thus, the trial court's judgment was allowed to stand.
Andretti also argued to the Court of Appeals that the victim had assumed the risk of her injury based on her purported general knowledge about the possibility of being hurt while go-karting, but withdrew this argument before the case was decided. The injured victim argued on appeal that despite a general knowledge of such dangers, she was unaware of the specific dangers of a defective track and equipment.
In upholding the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeals affirmed the right of personal injury victims to have their cases heard before a jury of impartial jurors, regardless of race.
John Hadden handled the appeal. Lloyd Hoffspiegel, Alex Hoffspiegel, Mark Link, and Ashley Dawkins tried the case.
The Hadden Law Firm handles cases from around the state of Georgia on behalf of personal injury victims injured due to the the negligence of others. We handle cases both at trial and on appeal.