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Georgia Court Reviews Sovereign Immunity Defense in Negligence Action

A car accident victim who sustains injuries as a result of another’s negligence may be eligible to recover some amount of damages for associated pain and suffering. The key is to evaluate the case in a timely manner with the assistance of an experienced injury attorney who knows and understands the laws and court procedures applicable to cases filed in the Atlanta area. A seasoned lawyer who routinely handles car accident claims would be able to prepare the best strategy in accordance with Georgia negligence law.

There are many different issues to take into account in any personal injury action involving motor vehicles, including trucks, motorcycles, and cars. One of the most important matters to identify early on is the issue of negligence:  who owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and failed to heed that obligation, thereby causing the plaintiff’s injuries. But in some cases, the courts require parties to plead and prove preliminary issues before the substance of the case, such as the right to bring an action against the allegedly responsible party.

In a recent case, Gonzalez v. Georgia Department of Transportation (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the plaintiff brought an action against the Georgia DOT for injuries sustained when the car she was a passenger in crashed into a tree on a rainy night. At the time of the accident, the car was on Interstate 16 when the person driving lost control of the vehicle as it veered off the road and collided with a tree. The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that the driver lost control when the car “hydroplaned” on rainwater, due to the DOT’s negligence in breaching a duty to construct, maintain, or improve the design of the roadway, in a manner that would have allowed the rainwater to drain from the interstate and therefore prevented the car from hydroplaning.

In response, the DOT filed two motions:  one to dismiss the complaint based on principles of sovereign immunity, and one for summary judgment, arguing that there was no evidence of the DOT’s negligence, or that any negligence on behalf of the DOT was the proximate cause of the accident. Under Georgia law, state entities are immune from liability under certain circumstances. The trial court ruled in favor of the DOT, granting its motion for summary judgment on the negligence cause of action. The court concluded, that as a matter of law, the plaintiff did not prove that the alleged negligence on behalf of the DOT was the proximate cause of the hydroplaning accident. The plaintiff appealed, fully describing the details of her negligence claims.

Interestingly enough, the Georgia court of appeals refused to rule on the merits of the negligence claims, pointing out that such review was premature. Under Georgia law, the trial court must first determine the threshold issue raised by the DOT:  whether it was entitled to sovereign immunity from the suit. The court remanded the matter back to the trial court to make this determination under the applicable statute.

This case illustrates the intricacies of personal injury law as it applies to automobile accident claims. A local attorney with experience handling such cases would be able to help you prepare your case in an efficient manner.  Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another person’s negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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