The $35 million verdict the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated in June made another step Thursday on its path back to the trial court for reconsideration of how much of that money Six Flags Over Georgia should pay.
“The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed in part and reversed in part our previous decision in Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P. v. Martin, 335 Ga. App. 350,” Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stephen Dillard wrote in a unanimous whole court opinion released Thursday. “Specifically, the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed our holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict as to liability in Joshua Martin’s premises-liability action against Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P. (albeit for different reasons), but reversed our decision to the extent that we held that, due to an apportionment error, the case must be retried in its entirety.”
Dillard went on to note that the high court instead “concluded that, upon remand to the trial court, the apportionment error, which is detailed in our original opinion, requires a retrial only as to apportionment, and thus, the Supreme Court remanded the case to this Court with direction that we remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings. … Accordingly, we adopt the judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia as our own, vacate the jury’s verdict with respect to apportionment of damages only, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion of our Supreme Court.”
In a trial before Cobb County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley, the jury placed 92 percent of the blame on Six Flags and 2 percent on each of four attackers. Six Flags argued successfully on appeal that more attackers should be added—giving the theme park a shot at reducing its judgment lower than the original $32 million tab.
Joshua Martin was 19 and celebrating a friend’s college acceptance in 2007 when he was attacked by a mob that included Six Flags employees while waiting for a bus to take him home. Theme park lawyers failed in their assertion that Six Flags was not liable because Martin had left the gates.
In writing the high court’s opinion, Justice Britt Grant used the term “brutal” to describe the attack that left Martin paralyzed and brain damaged.
“Regarding the contours of premises liability, we agree that the jury was authorized to find Six Flags liable for the breach of its duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping its premises safe for invitees, although for a different reason than that articulated by the Court of Appeals,” Grant wrote. “Because the attack that caused Martin’s injuries began while both he and his assailants were on Six Flags property, Six Flags’ liability is not extinguished simply because Martin stepped outside the property’s boundaries while attempting to distance himself from his attackers.” Lawyers for both sides took some comfort in the Supreme Court’s decision.
Six Flags appellate counsel Laurie Webb Daniel of Holland & Knight noted that the Grant opinion “ruled that Six Flags’ portion of the damages award is an open question that must be resolved by a jury.”
Martin’s appellate lawyer, Michael Terry of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, praised the high court’s decision after its release in June.
“It is clear that Justice Grant and the entire Supreme Court focused on both the details of this case and the bigger picture of the development of the law,” Terry said. “This opinion brings much needed clarity to the scope of a new trial for apportionment errors. This has been a long road for Joshua, and we are happy that he will be able to obtain the care and support he needs.”
The Court of Appeals case is Six Flags v. Martin, Nos. A15A0828 and A15A0829.