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Personal Injury Claims in Car Accident Lawsuit Must Follow Legal Procedure

yield-sign-1340780-mA victim injured in a car accident may be entitled to a recovery for any resulting pain and suffering. The injured party typically could file a personal injury action against the negligent person (or persons), setting forth the legal elements under the applicable law. A personal injury lawsuit is considered a civil case, many aspects of which are governed by Georgia’s civil practice rules. The law prescribes timelines and deadlines for various court filings throughout the proceedings. In order to ensure that you assert a viable claim for damages, within the correct time frame, it is essential that you contact an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area, someone who is fully apprised of the local legal procedure.

In a recent car accident case, Kelly v. Harris, et al. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the parties disputed the timeliness of certain court pleadings. Here, the plaintiff was in an automobile accident with an uninsured motorist. According to the complaint, the plaintiff asserted that the defendant was negligent in failing to yield as he turned left, directly into the plaintiff’s path, causing the crash. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had an insurance policy with GEICO that provided uninsured motorist benefits, and he notified the company that he intended to file an insurance claim in connection with the accident. After filing the complaint against the defendant, the plaintiff served GEICO with a copy of the summons and complaint approximately eight months later.

GEICO moved for summary judgment, claiming that the plaintiff failed to comply with the insurance policy’s notice provision, requiring him to notify GEICO as soon as possible after the accident. The plaintiff moved for a default judgment against GEICO for failing to file a timely answer. The trial court granted GEICO’S motion, finding that its answer was timely under an earlier Georgia case (which was later revealed to contain a typographical error – precluding such a finding), and that the state’s Uninsured Motorist Act permits an Uninsured Motorist Carrier (“UMC”) to file no answer. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court should have found GEICO in default for failing to file a timely answer.

Under Georgia law, defendants are required to answer a complaint within 30 days of being served the summons and complaint. The court of appeals found that the trial court mistakenly relied on a typographical error contained in an earlier Georgia court opinion in determining that GEICO’s answer was timely, essentially saying that because it need not file an answer at all, it was timely no matter when filed. The court pointed out that under Georgia’s Uninsured Motorist Act, once a UMC is served with a complaint against an uninsured motorist, it has the option of joining the action by filing an answer, but it is not required to do so. It may participate in an entirely separate action.

According to the court, GEICO failed to cite any legal authority (statute or case law) suggesting that once a UMC chooses to voluntarily become a party to a lawsuit, it is then exempt from fully complying with the civil practice law. Here, the court noted that GEICO filed its answer 101 days after it was served with the complaint, in violation of the state’s civil practice rules. The court vacated the lower court’s ruling because it mistakenly relied on a typographical error in an earlier decision, and because the court erroneously believed that a UMC could never be in default.

This case clearly illustrates the complicated nature of motion practice in an automobile accident case, as well as the interplay between Georgia statutory law and case precedent. If you have been involved in a car accident, the best course of action is to contact an injury attorney with a great deal of experience handling car accident claims. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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