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Georgia Supreme Court Rules on City’s Immunity For Negligence in Car Accident Lawsuit

mountain-drive-1442174-mCar accidents are often caused by negligence of some sort. Under Georgia law, negligence is essentially the lack of the degree of care exercised by an ordinarily prudent person under the same or similar circumstances. Negligence within the realm of a car accident can take many forms, such as driver distraction or impairment, excessive speed, failure to obey other safety laws, and a faulty vehicle part or maintenance. Unfortunately, no matter what the cause, automobile accidents are often the cause of driver or passenger injuries. Victims who have sustained such injuries are often eligible to recover damages for their pain and suffering, as well as other losses. An experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area would be able to assess your case and potential for a recovery under Georgia’s personal injury laws.

At the outset of any accident case, it is important to determine the people or entities who may be liable for your injuries. This is important for several reasons, including the need to provide legal notice to those parties, the possibility that they may raise unique defenses to the claims, and the significance of holding those responsible for the accident accountable in some meaningful way. In a recent case, Primas v. City of Milledgeville (Ga. Sup. Ct. 2015), the plaintiff was injured in a vehicle accident while driving a van owned by the City of Milledgeville. According to the facts revealed at trial, as the plaintiff approached an intersection and attempted to brake, the brake line failed. The plaintiff managed to steer off the road, but she crashed into a utility pole and sustained injuries.

The plaintiff sued the City, claiming that it was negligent in failing to maintain and inspect the van’s brake system. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff by denying the City’s motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed the decision, concluding that the plaintiff’s claim was prohibited under the principle of sovereign immunity, since the alleged negligent conduct was considered a “discretionary act” for which such immunity had not been waived under state law. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal and reversed the decision, holding that the court of appeals applied “inapplicable” legal principles. Here, the Supreme Court pointed out that although the case involved the concept of sovereign immunity, the lower court treated the matter as one involving official immunity.

Under Georgia law, sovereign immunity extends to the state and all of its departments and agencies. Official immunity, otherwise known as qualified immunity, offers public officers and employees limited protection from suit in their personal capacity. Qualified immunity protects individual public agents from personal liability for discretionary acts within the scope of their official authority. A public officer or employee may be personally liable only for ministerial acts negligently performed (or performed with malice or an intent to injure).

Here, the Court pointed out that the two lower courts failed to consider whether the alleged negligent acts occurred within the performance of a governmental function, and neither decision acknowledged or applied definitions of ministerial versus governmental functions as they relate to sovereign immunity. The Court sent the decision back to the court of appeals for reconsideration in accordance with the holding.

Clearly, personal injury actions resulting from a car accident can be fraught with complicated legal principles. An experienced injury attorney would be able to quickly sort through these concepts in order to assess your case and prepare a strong strategy for recovery.  Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with 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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