Georgia Negligent Hiring Case Law

In the case of a negligent hiring lawsuit in Georgia, the legal duty element is expressly imposed by the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 34-7-20 which requires employers "to exercise ordinary care in the selection of employees."

The statutory standard of "ordinary care" for negligent hiring has been defined by Georgia courts to mean that a jury is authorized to find liability if the facts show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the employer actually knew or should have known about an employee's undesirable character flaw that proximately caused harm to the complainant. Although a finding of employer liability in these cases is always case specific, liability is generally found when employers choose to ignore damaging information discovered about an applicant during the search procedure, fail to pursue a reasonable suspicion raised during the search, rely solely on dated information, or fail to make thorough inquiries of prior employers and references.

Georgia law (O.C.G.A. §34-1-4) grants immunity from civil liability to employers for giving factual information in good faith about job performance and job history of former employees.

C.K. Security Sys., Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 223 S.E.2d 453, 455 (Ga. App. 1976)

The court found a security firm had a duty to determine whether hotel security guard was honest or likely to steal.

Lear Siegler, Inc. v. Stegall 360 S.E.2d 619 (Ga. Ct. App. 1987)

 The court of appeals explicitly held that actual knowledge by an employer of an employee’s dangerous propensities is not a necessary element of a claim for negligent hiring. However, the courts have offered few clues as to what circumstances will suffice to impose liability absent actual knowledge. Generally, in order for a negligent hiring claim to succeed, the employee’s contact with an injured party must be a function of the employment.

Doe v. Village of St. Joseph, Inc., 415 S.E.2d 56 (1992)

The court held that the boarding school could not be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the alleged sexual misconduct of a staff member with a boarding school student; the court continued by stating that alleged misconduct was personal in nature and unrelated to performance of staff member's employment duties. 

In addition, it noted that boarding school could not be held liable for alleged sexual misconduct of one of its staff members with boarding school student on the theory that school was negligent in hiring, retaining or supervising the employee given uncontradicted evidence that a records check was conducted on the employee prior to his hiring and that it turned up no information suggesting that he had any criminal record or propensities. For employer liability to accrue, the information learned in the background investigation must be predictive of the future wrongful acts.

Tecumseh Products Co., Inc. v. Rigdon, 552 S.E.2d 910 (Ga. App. 2001)

The plaintiff-appellee was allegedly assaulted by a co-worker.  She brought suit against the defendant-employer, alleging that the employer negligently hired and retained the co-worker.  Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the employer knew or should have known the co-worker was potentially dangerous to other employees because it had previously fired the co-worker after he was involved in an altercation with his supervisor, only to rehire the co-worker after he threatened to bring suit against the Company for race discrimination. The defendant moved for a directed verdict, which was denied.  The jury then found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her compensatory and punitive damages. 

On appeal, the verdict was affirmed.  The appellate court first set forth the plaintiff’s burden:  “A claimant must show that ‘the employer knew or should have known of the employee’s propensity to engage in the conduct which caused the plaintiff’s injury.  Proof of such [propensity] must consist of evidence substantially related to the injury-causing conduct.’”  The court then found that the plaintiff had satisfied this burden, by showing that the employer had both actual and constructive knowledge of the co-worker’s “propensity to lose his temper and become violent,” and that the defendant negligently rehired and retained the co-worker despite this knowledge.

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