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Act of God Defense in Georgia Car Accident Case

There are a number of affirmative defenses that may be raised by a Georgia defendant when faced with a lawsuit arising out of a car accident. One of these is the Act of God defense. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the appeals court considered a lawsuit that involved a woman hitting a man and his dog while they crossed the entrance to a parking lot. The man sued the woman for negligence, requesting compensatory and punitive damages. The defendant argued an Act of God defense.

Discovery was conducted. The plaintiff brought a motion for summary judgment. The lower court denied the motion as to punitive damages, and also granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the act of God defense raised by the plaintiff.

The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court reversed on the denial of the plaintiff’s request for summary judgment as to punitive damages. However, the appellate court also affirmed the lower court’s granting of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the Act of God defense.

The appellate court explained that summary judgment can be granted under OCGA section 9-11-56(c) where there’s no genuine issue regard material facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

With regard to the punitive damages issue, the court explained that under OCGA section 51-12-5.1(b) punitive damages are only appropriate in tort lawsuits where there is clear and convincing evidence that a defendant’s acts showed oppression, wantonness, fraud, malice or willful misconduct or a want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences. OCGA § 51-12-5.1(b). There has to be more than a mere tort at issue in order to recover punitive damages. The defendant’s actions involved need to be truly egregious as when there’s drunk driving. The plaintiff argued that the defendant had been texting while driving and this violated Georgia law, which supported punitive damages. However, where there is a traffic violation that’s not a proximate cause of a car accident, it won’t be enough to recover punitive damages. In this case, the defendant wasn’t texting at the moment of the accident. There also was no evidence of drunk driving or even speeding.

The plaintiff argued it was improper for the lower court to grand the summary judgment motion as to her Act of God defense. The appellate court explained that the claim that a car accident was an act of God and not the defendant’s fault is an affirmative defense. An act of God is one that excludes human agency. It needs to be an accident solely produced by an inevitable force of nature or God, one that doesn’t allow for human agency. The plaintiff pointed out that the car accident was caused completely by the defendant’s actions not a force of nature because the defendant had given testimony about failing to put down her sun visor or wearing her sunglasses. The Act of God defense couldn’t go forward where the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s actions, and the defendant couldn’t meet her burden to show there was a genuine issue of material fact as to her act of God defense. There was no evidence that the quantity of sunlight was so unexpected that it made inevitable the car accident.

Often insurance adjustors for defendants in car accident suits look for ways in which a plaintiff is at fault. However, they may also raise affirmative defenses like the one described above. If you were injured in a car accident in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia, you should discuss your situation with seasoned personal injury attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert. He is has more than 20 years of experience. Call us at (404) 370-1000 or contact us via our website.