Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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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.

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If your car accident occurred while you were on the job, you may not be able to recover damages, because your exclusive remedy may be workers’ compensation benefits. In a recent Georgia car accident case, a plaintiff was injured and sued his employers and two individuals. He claimed the employers, for whom he worked as an airport shuttle driver and maintenance worker, were negligent in not letting him get medical care or insurance coverage. He argued that this delay exacerbated his injuries. The employer filed for a dismissal or, in the alternative, summary judgment. It argued that workers’ compensation was the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy. The lower court didn’t address the argument about exclusive remedy, but denied the motion to dismiss.

The case arose when the plaintiff’s car, owned by his employer, was reportedly struck by a car owned and driven by the individual defendants. The plaintiff was driving a car owned by his employer. When he sued, he claimed the employer was negligent in failing to give him access to medical insurance coverage, and this failure exacerbated his injuries and caused him to experience multiple strokes.

The employer answered and admitted the plaintiff was an employee, but then moved to dismiss the claims on the grounds that workers’ compensation was his exclusive remedy. The prior lawsuit he’d filed in 2015 against the employer had alleged an injury in the course of his employment. In interrogatories, he’d claimed he got into an accident when he was going back to work after picking up parts.

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There are different theories under which parents can be held vicariously (indirectly) liable for their child’s negligence while driving including the family purpose doctrine and respondeat superior. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the court considered a Georgia car accident in which one driver sued a second driver for negligence and her parents for vicarious liability. The drivers crashed into each other when the defendant was 28 and living with her parents. The defendant co-owned the car she’d been operating with her mother. Her mother had co-signed for a loan so that the defendant could get the car.

The car insurance policy was in the names of the parents, but the defendant provided the father with the money for the loan payments and reimbursed her father for the insurance premiums. She paid for gas and maintenance and had sole possession of the vehicle’s keys. Her parents didn’t have any say in whether she operated the vehicle. She worked for her father’s company, but at the time of the accident she was driving to go volunteer and wasn’t acting as her father’s agent.

The mother and father filed a motion for summary judgment on the vicarious liability issue. The father argued he didn’t have any ownership of the car, and the mother argued she didn’t have authority or control. The plaintiff argued that there were issues of material fact on whether the parents could be held responsible under respondeat superior or the family purpose doctrine. The parents’ motions were denied.

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Special rules apply if you are injured in a car accident caused by improper maintenance of a public road. You’ll need to provide notice to the government in a very specific way, and failure to do so can result in dismissal of your claim. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a driver was hurt in a single-car accident on State Route 42. He sued the Georgia Department of Transportation arguing that its improper maintenance of the roadway resulted in too much water accumulating and the accumulation caused his truck to hydroplane into a tree, causing catastrophic injuries.

The Georgia Department of Transportation filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and based on sovereign immunity. It claimed the plaintiff hadn’t complied with the ante litem notice requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The motion was denied, and the appellate court granted an application for interlocutory appeal.

The appellate court explained that the Georgia Tort Claims Act, found at OCGA section 50-21-20 was enacted to balance strict sovereign immunity against the need for limited exposure of the State treasury to tort liability. The Georgia Tort Claims Act offers a restricted waiver of sovereign immunity in specific cases where a claimant follows the requirements of the Georgia Tort Claims Act. Among other things, these requirements mandate a strict compliance with the ante litem notice provisions of section 50-21-26.

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If you’re injured in a Georgia car accident, it is imperative to work with an experienced plaintiff’s attorney, even if you believe a settlement can be reached with an insurer. It is important to retain an attorney before discussing the matter with the other driver’s insurer at all, and certainly before entering into settlement negotiations. In a recent Georgia case, the defendant’s vehicle hit the plaintiff’s vehicle. On appeal, the defendant argued that the lower court had erred in denying his motion to enforce a settlement agreement by prohibiting evidence and questioning about a treating doctor’s financial interest in the case, and by excluding evidence and questioning related to the treating doctor’s credibility and potential bias.

After the plaintiff claimed she’d been injured by the defendant’s car, she hired an attorney. Her attorney sent a settlement demand for the policy limits of $25,000 to the defendant’s insurer. On top of asking for payment, the settlement demand said it was contingent on receipt of certain sworn affidavits about how much insurance coverage was to be had and a limited release. If these conditions weren’t met and payment wasn’t made, the settlement demand would be withdrawn in 30 days.

The defendant’s insurer called to say it would pay policy limits. However, the insurer couldn’t’ issue the check right away and had to wait until defense counsel told her to do so. The plaintiff’s attorney said he would wait to hear back.

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It is important to examine the circumstances of a Georgia car accident closely to determine whether someone other than a driver is partially or fully to blame for an accident. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a couple sued a mobile device app company for negligence and loss of consortium arising out of a car crash that they claimed arose from the app’s speed filter.

The plaintiffs claimed that the car accident had happened on September 10, 2015. The passenger in the back seat of the at-fault driver’s car alleged that she’d looked up to notice the car accelerating upwards of 80 mph. She allegedly asked the at-fault driver to slow down and said she was pregnant. The at-fault driver said she was trying to get the car to 100 mph to post it on the app. The car hit 113 mph before the at-fault driver let off the gas, and then the couple’s car came out of an apartment complex.

Due to the accident, the husband-plaintiff suffered permanent brain damage. The app was one that permitted users to take videos and photos and then share them with friends. It also has filters that permit a user to lay a drawing, graphic or words over their videos and photos. One filter was a speedometer to show the speed of the user’s vehicle.

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In a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. It asked whether the damages that could be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a decedent’s survivors were restricted by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a prior personal injury lawsuit settling all claims that could have been brought in the suit. If this question was answered in the affirmative, the lower court also asked what components or wrongful death damages would be barred in Georgia.

The case arose when a woman was involved in a car accident in 1992. She went into a coma due to a head injury from the accident. As her legal guardian, her husband sued the car manufacturer and another for the injuries. The plaintiff claimed that there was a defective seatbelt latch and door-locking mechanism and that these caused her injuries.

The jury tried the case, but before it came back with a verdict, the manufacturer and plaintiff entered into a high-low settlement agreement. This guaranteed that there would be a recovery for the plaintiff in case there was a verdict for the manufacturer but limited the manufacturer’s exposure in case the jury found for the plaintiff. The jury found for the plaintiff, awarding $30 million for pain and suffering, over $400,000 for medical expenses already incurred, and $6 million for future care and living expenses.

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In a recent Georgia car accident, and appellate decision was reached after the passengers in a car going southbound on I-75 were injured when an unknown driver swerved into their lane. The driver of the passenger’s car slammed on the brakes. A driver behind that car was allegedly following too closely and rear-ended the passengers’ car. The unknown driver ran away from the scene.

The passengers sued the rear-driving car and also sued the unknown driver, using a “Doe” designation under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute. Under OCGA § 33-7-11 (b) (2), a motor vehicle is deemed uninsured where an owner or operator of the motor vehicle isn’t known. The defendant sued under OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) of that statute, which states that a John Doe defendant’s home will be presumed to be the county where an injury-producing accident happens or the plaintiff’s home county.

The rear-driver moved to transfer the venue to the venue where he lived, but this motion was denied. On appeal, he asked the appellate court to consider whether the venue provision of the uninsured motorist law applied in a lawsuit related to a car crash brought against a known Georgia resident and a defendant who is unknown under the theory of joint tortfeasor liability.

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In Georgia vehicle accident cases, determining liability can often be very complicated. First there are questions of driver negligence, driving under the influence or falling asleep at the wheel. Next there are product liability questions – did a car part fail or did some key mechanism not do what it was supposed to? Third, there are environmental factors. Perhaps roads were not properly marked or signs weren’t obvious, making it more likely that an accident would occur. All of these types of issues can create complicated questions of liability and require plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against many different parties. This is illustrated by a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looking at the liability of the Georgia Department of Transportation versus independent road contractors.

In Stopanio v. Leon Fence, LLC, A.S. brought claims against the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and independent construction contractors who performed work at the site of an accident. At the time of the accident, A.S. was driving to Florida with her parents. Her parents were in a car immediately in front of hers when a vehicle driving in the opposite direction drifted across the center lane and struck her parent’s SUV. This caused the airbags to deploy. The car swerved left, hit a guardrail and then bounced into a concrete pileway. The SUV exploded into fire and A.S.’s parents were killed instantly. A.S. was also injured when trying to respond to the accident. A.S. brought claims against both defendants as personal representative of her parent’s estate: a wrongful death and personal injury claim.

The independent contractors who had done road construction on the area where the accident occurred filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that GDOT had accepted their construction work prior to the accident and taken over control of the area. Accordingly, they were no longer liable for any injury that might result from the condition of the road. The lower court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. A.S. appealed.

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In many Georgia litigation cases, actually filing a complaint in court is the option of last resort. Particularly in accident cases where the liability of one party is clear, both parties can typically avoid the time and expense of court time if they can agree to a settlement before a complaint is ever filed. These types of pre-filing resolutions are increasingly popular as parties look to minimize risk and keep costs low. When engaging in settlement, however, the parties must be careful to keep tabs on pending offers and upcoming deadlines or risk losing the opportunity to settle prior to litigation.

This is illustrated in a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals. In that case, Y.C. was driving her vehicle in Georgia when she was injured in an accident where M.S. hit her car. After the two parties exchanged information, Y.C. hired an attorney and the attorney sent a demand letter to M.S. for the amount of M.S.’s policy limits, $25,000. The demand letter indicated that M.S. had 30 days to provide payment or the offer would be withdrawn. Over the next few weeks, the parties exchanged emails about the details of a possible settlement, including inquiries into whether any liens existed and how payment would be made. M.S.’s counsel explained that he was “facilitating settlement of the matter.” However, the 30 days passed without actual payment of the demand.

Several weeks later, M.S.’s attorney tendered the payment of the $25,000 check, but Y.C.’s counsel explained that they were rejecting the check because M.S. had delayed beyond the deadline imposed in the demand letter. Y.C. then filed a lawsuit against M.S. for negligence. M.S. filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties, but the court denied it, finding that under the terms of the demand letter, M.S. had not accepted Y.C.’s offer. The case continued to trial and the jury awarded Y.C. $700,000. M.S. appealed.