Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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sheriffGovernmental immunity can be a confusing concept under Georgia law. As illustrated in past cases on this blog, some government officers and agencies can be found immune from litigation, while others may fall in special exceptions that prevent them from being held liable in a lawsuit. A recent Georgia car accident case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at how Georgia’s governmental immunity doctrines apply to county sheriffs in the state.

In this case, S.D. was driving in Calhoun, Georgia when he attempted to make a left turn at a local intersection. S.D. waited for all oncoming traffic before beginning his turn, but, as he turned, a local sheriff, R.M., attempted to pass S.D. on his left hand side. S.D.’s vehicle ran into R.M., and R.M.’s vehicle collided with S.D.’s driver’s side door. Because of the accident, S.D. continued to suffer from lingering back, neck, and leg pain. Importantly, at the time of the accident, R.M. was driving a county-owned sheriff’s vehicle on his way to business at the sheriff’s office evidence room.

S.D. immediately sued R.M. and Gordon County for the injuries he experienced. He alleged that R.M. had negligently driven his vehicle and that Gordon County was vicariously liable for R.M.’s actions. S.D.’s claims against the County were dismissed due to a failure to provide them with adequate notice, and R.M. moved for summary judgment on the claims against him, arguing that he had governmental immunity because he was in the course of his employment when the accident occurred. The trial court ultimately agreed that R.M. was entitled to governmental immunity and dismissed the claims against him. S.D. appealed.

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driverSometimes in personal injury and car accident cases, individuals who have not actually caused the accident themselves can also be held liable for the injuries that result. This is often known as vicarious liability. Examples of vicarious liability include employers that are held liable for the actions of their employees, or principals who are held liable for their agents. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks closely at whether vicarious liability can occur when the employee or agent is not held liable themselves.

In this Georgia auto accident case, T.A. was injured after she was involved in a car accident with C.L. and D.B. At the time, C.L. was allowing his grandson to drive his car as practice shortly after receiving his driver’s license. D.B. collided with T.A. while he was driving. T.A. suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.

T.A. sued D.B. for her injuries and also sued C.L. as the family member who allowed D.B. to drive, under the doctrine of family purpose. Under the family purpose principle, family members who own a car and allow others to drive it can be held responsible when those individuals cause an accident. The doctrine arose as a result of the fact that when those who were injured sued younger drivers, or the elderly, for their injuries, the defendants frequently had no assets and were virtually judgment proof. In order to give plaintiffs a better chance of recovery, the family purpose doctrine was expanded to allow plaintiffs a better chance of recovery.

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racing carCar chases happen relatively infrequently during police activity, despite the fact that they are often sensationalized on the TV and in movies. In reality, car chases are difficult and dangerous affairs, with the potential for injuries to the driver fleeing the police, the police themselves, and innocent bystanders. When police do not follow proper procedures during car chases, they can also find themselves liable for any third-party injuries that may result, as illustrated in a recent case.

In this Georgia car accident case, S.N. and W.N. were seriously injured after a driver fleeing the police in a car chase ran into their vehicle while illegally crossing an intersection. At the time of the accident, the driver was being chased by Monroe County police. S.N. and W.N. brought claims against the Monroe County police for their injuries, alleging that the reckless conduct of the officers proximately caused their injuries. Monroe County moved for summary judgment after discovery, and the lower court agreed, finding that S.N. and W.N. had failed to show any evidence that the Monroe County police acted with reckless disregard for their policies and procedures. S.N. and W.N. appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the evidence presented in the case clearly raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Monroe County acted recklessly. Specifically, on the night in question, Lamar County police attempted to pull over a driver after he was observed straddling two lanes. When the driver refused to pull over but instead accelerated, the Lamar County police began to chase him. As the driver crossed county lines, Monroe County police joined in the chase. At that time, Lamar County alerted Monroe County that the driver was being pursued only for failing to comply with a traffic stop and did not have an outstanding warrant or any other significant issues. As the chase continued, the police commented on their dash cameras and on audio recordings about the heavy traffic on the roads where they were pursuing the driver and the driver’s extremely erratic behavior and driving tactics, including weaving through lanes, crossing medians, and driving in emergency lanes. They expressed their concerns about the dangerousness of the situation but continued to pursue the driver.

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manholeWhile many accidents are caused by negligent or reckless drivers who fail to take adequate precautions on the road, this is not the only reason that accidents occur. Foreign objects, obstructions, dangerous weather, and other unanticipated conditions can also cause automobile accidents. While many of these may be chance mistakes, occasionally defects in road conditions or signage arise that could have been properly addressed and prevented had the proper parties had notice of these defects. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considers whether a city had just such a defect in its roads, and whether it had sufficient knowledge of the defect such that it should have previously addressed it.

In this Georgia car accident case, J.B. was driving in the city when his car hit an area of broken pavement over a manhole. According to J.B., the hole in the pavement was so large that it caused his vehicle to veer out of control and into oncoming traffic. J.B. struck a vehicle headed in the other direction head-on, causing severe injuries. J.B. sued the City of Macon for his injuries and damages resulting from the collision, alleging that the City should have known about the damaged road around the manhole and should have addressed it, and that their negligent failure to do so caused his injuries. The City responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J.B. had failed to provide actual evidence that the City had notice of the damaged road and could have repaired it prior to his accident. In response to this motion, J.B. produced pictures of the damage, taken two weeks after his accident, and argued that the damage to the road was such that the City should have had constructive notice of it. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. The City appealed.

On appeal, the City argued that the photographs produced by J.B. were not sufficient evidence of constructive notice because they did not provide any indication as to how long the road had been damaged. Under Tennessee law, the City has constructive knowledge of damage or a defect when the defect has existed for a long enough period of time that notice of the defect can be inferred. Evidence of constructive knowledge must be such that a jury could reasonably believe that the defect had been around long enough that the City should have had notice of it.

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grass
Public officers such as firemen, police men, and emergency responders must frequently put themselves in a position of possible danger to do their job. While protecting the public, they may encounter dangerous conditions that they must address, and they may be injured in doing so. Under Georgia law, these public officers cannot sue other individuals for injuries they incur while dealing with obviously dangerous or negligent situations. For instance, a fireman cannot sue a homeowner if he is injured due to the homeowner’s negligence while fighting a fire. These are risks that are part of the job. Sometimes this situation arises in an Atlanta car accident case as well.

A recent case illustrates this point. T.K. was a police officer with the Baker County Sheriff’s office. He was called out to deal with a wreck that had occurred on the road. Earlier that day, an employee of Watson Used Cars (“Watson”) was mowing the lawn when he accidentally blew grass clippings out onto the road. Later, it started to rain, and while R.L. was driving down the wet road and over the clippings, his vehicle spun out of control and landed in a ditch. He called 911, and T.K. responded.

T.K. and another officer quickly drove to the scene. As they were approaching, they began to slow down. T.K. did not notice the clippings as he came up to the scene of the accident, and when he began to brake, his own vehicle slipped on the grass clippings and spun out of control, striking a tree. T.K. was severely injured and placed on disability leave. T.K. sued Watson for negligence, alleging that the grass clippings that were negligently blown onto the road caused his injuries.

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truckCompanies throughout Georgia and the United States are increasingly turning to independent contractors to satisfy various job functions in their businesses. Independent contractors save businesses on employment taxes, limit the number of employees who may access benefits, and reduce the liability of the company. As a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates, companies have less exposure in negligence and personal injury lawsuits when independent contractors are involved.

In this Georgia auto accident case, P.S. was making a delivery to Wells Fargo Bank as a driver for BeavEx when his vehicle collided with E.M.’s vehicle. E.M. sued P.S. to recover compensation for injuries that he incurred. E.M. also sued BeavEx, P.S.’s employer at the time. After discovery was completed in the case, BeavEx moved for summary judgment, arguing that since P.S. was an independent contractor at the time of the accident, rather than an employee, BeavEx was not liable. The trial court agreed and dismissed the claims against BeavEx. E.M. and their uninsured motorist carrier filed an appeal.

The Georgia Court of Appeals noted that in order to determine whether P.S. was an employee or an independent contractor, it had to look at whether the contract gave, or BeavEx assumed, a right for BeavEx to control P.S.’s work, including the timing and manner of delivery. When there is a significant degree of control by the employer, an employee-employer relationship generally exists. When there is less control, the relationship is usually one of independent contractor-employer.

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car accidentOne of the fundamental questions that must be resolved at the start of every lawsuit is where is the proper forum for a lawsuit to be brought. Plaintiffs may not simply bring a case anywhere they choose. Instead, the court hearing a lawsuit must have some logical connection to it, most often that the incidents giving rise to the lawsuit occurred there or that the defendants reside in that jurisdiction. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considered whether a defendant may request a change of venue to the county where he resides, when the lawsuit is brought in the place of the accident.

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pedestrianNegligence can arise in a wide variety of situations, whether at home, on the road, or out in public. In all scenarios, however, certain fundamental elements of a negligence claim must be met. A plaintiff must establish that a defendant had a duty to prevent harm to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the injuries that the plaintiff suffered. Without these important elements, a plaintiff cannot hold a defendant liable, no matter how terrible the injuries were that were suffered. While these requirements may seem onerous, they serve an important function of ensuring that defendants are held liable for damages that they definitely caused, or could have prevented, but not for accidents outside their control. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court took a look at circumstances in which it was less than clear that the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

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busAs an initial phase in any case, plaintiffs must notify defendants that they are being sued in court. This is done by serving them with a copy of the complaint, through what is known as service of process. If service of process is not done properly, a defendant may not even know that litigation is ongoing and may miss opportunities to defend himself, which would prevent a fair litigation process from occurring. To keep this from happening, Georgia rules allow a court to dismiss a lawsuit when service of process has not been correctly followed. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Court evaluated whether to uphold a dismissal in a case of questionable service.

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truckDuring the course of a lawsuit, there are many opportunities for litigants to attempt to end a case early, without proceeding to trial. A defendant may move to dismiss a case at the early stages, arguing that the plaintiff has not alleged any real violation of the law. Later, after depositions are taken and evidence is exchanged, either party may move for summary judgment in a case, arguing that their position is so clearly the correct one that the court should go ahead and find for them at that time. When parties move for summary judgment, they must show that there are no genuine disputes over the material facts in a case, such that a court can rule on it without the case proceeding to trial. If different stories or disputes exist, a jury must be allowed to considered these different facts and weigh the evidence for itself. A recent case before the Court of Appeals in Georgia illustrates these summary judgment considerations.

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