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Georgia Court Addresses the Right to Discovery in a Car Accident Case

file-1239786According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT”), traffic fatalities are on the rise throughout the state. The agency has speculated that driver distraction may account for the increase in traffic accidents, citing texting and surfing the web while driving. Prior to this year, traffic deaths had declined for the past nine years. According to the GDOT, transportation and law enforcement officials throughout Georgia started a multi-agency campaign called DriveAlert ArriveAlive to call attention to a startling 25 percent increase in roadway fatalities in the first quarter of 2015.

Hopefully, the awareness program will serve to reduce the number of accidents and resulting injuries and fatalities. People who have been injured in car or other vehicle accidents may be entitled, at the very least, to compensation for their pain and suffering and losses. To determine your right to a recovery, you are encouraged to contact a local Atlanta injury attorney who has extensive experience representing parties in car accident cases.

Most auto accident cases involve discovery to some extent. It is an integral part of any negligence case. Under Georgia law, parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter that is not “privileged” if it is considered relevant to the subject matter of the pending action. In a recent case, Chandler et al., v Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), parties to a car accident case argued over the trial court’s decision in refusing to require the production of evidence (the plaintiffs’ request for discovery). Here, a couple and their daughter (the plaintiffs) were injured in a car accident with another driver (Evans Johnson III), who was insured by Liberty Mutual. The plaintiffs were also insured by Liberty Mutual. The company denied their claims under the uninsured motorist (“UM”) policy.

The plaintiffs responded by bringing this lawsuit against Liberty Mutual for breach of contract and bad faith. During the discovery phase, the insurer refused to provide certain documents that related to the settlement of claims under Johnson’s liability policy. At one point during the proceedings, Liberty Mutual allegedly advised the parties that the limits of Johnson’s liability policy had been exhausted. The plaintiffs argued that they relied on this representation in deciding to pursue claims under the UM policy. Under Georgia law, plaintiffs may pursue such UM claims only after an insurer offers, and the plaintiffs accept, an amount equal to the limits of the liability policy.

Ultimately, the court refused to require the insurer to produce the evidence requested, and the Chandlers appealed, arguing that the court erred by refusing to so order the production of documents, and by granting summary judgment in the insurance company’s favor. The court of appeals agreed with the plaintiffs and reversed the decision, pointing out, among other things, that the trial court “took a narrow view of  relevance” by determining that the insurance file requested was not relevant to the plaintiffs’ claims. Here, the court of appeals concluded that the file appeared to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, with respect to the representations made by the defendants.

It is important to understand what documents and other evidence you are entitled to in any negligence case. An injury attorney with a great deal of experience representing parties in car accident cases would be able to assess your claim with an eye to achieving the best possible recovery under the circumstances. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been hurt as a result of another’s negligence 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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