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Georgia Court Grants City Employee Immunity From Suit in Car Accident Case

A person who is injured in a car accident typically has the right to bring a personal injury action against the negligent party. However, it is important to be aware of local laws that may apply to your case. For example, Section 36-92-3 of the Georgia Code provides government employees with immunity from civil lawsuits under certain circumstances. Specifically, the law provides (in pertinent part) that “any local government officer or employee who commits a tort involving the use of a covered motor vehicle while in the performance of his or her official duties is not subject to lawsuit or liability therefore.”

While the statute may seem straightforward, courts are often called upon to determine whether the immunity defense is applicable to a particular set of facts. Since each car accident case is different, it is important to understand how the state’s local laws could affect your right to a recovery under the circumstances of your accident. An experienced Atlanta injury attorney would be able to assess your case to determine the extent of your right to compensation.

In a recent case, Guice v. Brown (Ga. Ct. of App. 2015), the plaintiff, James Michael Brown, was in a car accident with Ellis Willard Guice, a city employee. According to the undisputed facts, the defendant-employee was installing stop signs on the day of the accident and was driving from one installation location to another when he “cut through” a shopping center parking lot to avoid heavy traffic. As he exited the lot onto Georgia 278 West and attempted to get in the left turn lane, he was struck by a westbound vehicle driven by the plaintiff. The defendant’s employer testified that if an employee trespassed on private property or performed a criminal act, he would not be considered to be acting within the scope of his employment.

After the discovery phase of the trial, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was immune from suit and liability under Section 36-92-3 because he was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The trial court ultimately denied the motion, concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact for the jury. The defendant appealed, claiming that the court erred by denying the motion. The issue on appeal was whether the defendant was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

The plaintiff argued (among other things) that since the defendant traveled across the private shopping center without permission, the city would not consider him to be acting within the scope of his employment. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s actions violated a city ordinance, a criminal trespassing law, and a traffic safety law. The court of appeals concluded that the plaintiff’s arguments based on the alleged violations of city and county ordinances were without merit because he failed to produce the proper evidence. Furthermore, the court found that the plaintiff failed to produce evidence supporting his claims that the defendant violated traffic safety and criminal trespass laws.

Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence or law that sufficiently created an issue of fact as to whether the defendant was driving in violation of a law when he “cut through” the shopping center to avoid traffic. For this reason, the court reversed the decision, finding that the defendant was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident and that he was entitled to immunity from suit and liability.

This case nicely illustrates the critical need to understand the laws applicable to your personal injury action. Reaching out to a local, experienced injury attorney is a good way to approach your case. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured 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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