Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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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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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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pinsMany negligence cases turn on the question of whether a defendant, like a property owner, had sufficient actual knowledge of a hazard on his or her property, such that something should have been done to correct it. For instance, a plaintiff may allege that the defendant saw the hazard or that the hazard was reported directly to the property owner. While evidence often focuses on actual notice, it is important to remember that actual notice is not the only standard for liability. Property owners can also be held liable if they had constructive notice, or should have known that a hazard existed. A recent case in the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates this standard.

In this Georgia personal injury case, P.D. sued Rainbow Stores, USA, after she stepped on an anti-theft sensor pin while visiting a store in Georgia. The pin was on the floor while P.D. was shopping and pierced her sandal when she stepped on it, leading to nerve damage in her foot. At the time of the injury, there were multiple employees on the store floor, some of whom were attaching sensor pins to pieces of clothing. The evidence uncovered during discovery showed that neither P.D. nor the other employees noticed the sensor pin at the time that P.D. stepped on it, so they did not have actual knowledge of the hazard. Based on these facts, the trial court granted Rainbow’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. P.D. appealed.

On appeal, P.D. argued that while Rainbow did not have actual knowledge of the hazard, it did have constructive knowledge. P.D. pointed to testimony establishing that shoplifting was a very serious problem at Rainbow and that sensor pins were regularly attached to all clothing at the store. Employees were permitted to attach sensor pins in the back stockroom or on the store floor, and the company was aware that sensor pins falling on the floor of the store, where they could pose a danger to customers, was a problem. This happened due to employee errors and efforts by potential shoplifters to pry the sensors off clothes and discard them on the ground. To try to protect against this problem, Rainbow instructed its employees to sweep the floors each morning and each evening at closing.

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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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truck accidentWhile many accidents occur between vehicles owned by individuals, accidents also frequently occur that involve corporate vehicles. When this is the case, plaintiffs may seek to go after the corporate owner because they have deeper pockets for recovering medical and personal expenses. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court considered whether a corporation could be held responsible for an accident that occurred when the son of the owner was driving a company vehicle.

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gas stationWhen a plaintiff sues a defendant about a hazardous condition, he or she must allege that the defendant had knowledge of the condition and failed to address it or failed to warn others. Likewise, the plaintiff must also show that he or she did not have full knowledge of the danger before encountering it. While defendants may be held liable for injuries that occur on their property due to dangers of which they were aware, but a plaintiff was not, they usually cannot be held liable for injuries when a plaintiff knows of a dangerous condition and proceeds anyway. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at when a plaintiff has such “superior or equal” knowledge to that of a defendant.

In Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation, Travis was a truck driver employed by Petroleum Transport Company. He delivered gas to gas stations around the country. In 2011, he was delivering gas to QuikTrip Corporation, at a station managed by Lloyd Thompson. While delivering the gas, he was hit by another driver and suffered serious injuries. He sued the driver, Thompson, and QuikTrip for his injuries. Travis quickly settled with the driver but maintained premises liability claims against Thompson and QuikTrip. He argued that the gasoline delivery process at QuikTrip was unnecessarily dangerous, since it often required drivers to kneel down in the middle of traffic at the station in order to measure gas tank levels. Drivers had repeatedly reported these dangers to QuikTrip, but it did nothing to address them.

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mountain driveIn order to successfully bring a claim for negligence under Georgia law, the plaintiff must be able to plead and prove the following elements:  the existence of a duty of care on the part of the defendant, a breach of that duty, causation linking the breach to the alleged injury, and identifiable damages resulting from that alleged breach. These elements apply to most personal injury cases, including a lawsuit for injuries arising from a motor vehicle accident. In order to maximize your potential recovery for damages from injuries sustained in a car accident, you are strongly encouraged to consult with an experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area.

While each element is an integral and necessary part of a negligence case, the issue of causation is particularly important. Causation or “proximate cause” requires evidence of “a legally attributable causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the alleged injury.”

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