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Georgia Supreme Court Reviews Wrongful Death Action Stemming From a Car Accident

Car accidents occur all too often on Atlanta roadways. In many cases, victims injured in an accident will be eligible to recover damages for any sign-no-alcohol-1231362-mpain and suffering caused by the negligence of another person. But people who bring personal injury claims must sort through various state laws that often dictate who may or may not be liable under the circumstances of a specific case. The Georgia Code and related case law will also guide the plaintiff in terms of what elements must be proven in order to bring a successful injury claim. While these issues may seem complicated, an experienced, local injury attorney would be able to review the facts of your case and quickly assess the potential extent of a recovery under Georgia law, as well as how to pursue with the claim.

In a recent case stemming from a car accident, Dion v. Y.S.G. Enterprises, Inc. (Ga. Sup. Ct. 2014), the Georgia Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the widow of a man who was killed in a single-car accident could bring a wrongful death claim against a bar at which the deceased was drinking just before he died in the crash. Here, the deceased, Dale Dion (“Dale”), went to Depot Sports Bar and Grill (“Depot”) and drank alcoholic beverages from 2:30 p.m. until closing at 10:45 p.m. At that time, Dale was noticeably intoxicated, and a Depot employee asked him for his car keys, but he refused and left. Dale’s blood alcohol content was .282 at the time of his death.

Dale’s widow brought a wrongful death claim against Y.S.G. Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Depot Sports Bar and Grill. She argued that the conduct of the defendant’s employees was the proximate cause of her husband’s death. Depot filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failing to state a claim. Specifically, the defendant argued that the state Dram Shop Act prohibits claims by a consumer of alcohol against the provider. The trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that her wrongful death claim is grounded in tort law, which prohibits giving alcoholic beverages to a person who is visibly drunk.

Under Georgia law, however, a wrongful death action is considered “derivative” to the decedent’s rights to bring an action. A survivor is not entitled to recover for a decedent’s wrongful death if that person could not have recovered on his or her own. The court pointed out that Dale, as the consumer of alcohol, could not have recovered in his own right. In fact, the statutory provisions that do permit a recovery in such instances seem to do so only if it is a third party who suffers the injuries. Under Section 51-1-40(b), the consumer of any alcoholic beverage is prohibited from recovering from the provider for injuries or damages suffered by the consumer. Although the plaintiff attempted to argue that the statute is unconstitutional for various reasons, the court of appeals rejected such contentions and ultimately affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing the action against the defendants.

This case illustrates how complex a personal injury action can be in terms of who may be liable for another’s pain and suffering and to what extent. State law typically governs claims arising from car accidents. If you have been injured in an auto accident, you are encouraged to contact an experienced injury lawyer, someone who handles such cases on a routine basis. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another person’s negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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