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Georgia Court Upholds Default Judgment in Personal Injury Action

Car accidents occur on a daily basis on Atlanta roadways. The circumstances may involve collisions with trucks, cyclists, pedestrians, and other motor vehicles. Car crashes often cause serious damage and injuries to the people involved. Victims of such accidents may be entitled to compensation for harm caused by a negligent party. It is important to keep in mind that there are many critical legal steps to follow when bringing a personal injury action. In order to maximize a recovery for your car accident claim, you are encouraged to contact a local attorney with extensive experience handling these cases. Georgia law governs many aspects of personal injury actions arising from car accidents.

The state code is expansive and intricate and often requires a fair amount of legal interpretation, based on previous case law. In a recent case, Winslett v. Guthrie (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the court reviewed whether under OCGA Section 9-11-60, the defendant could vacate or set aside a default judgment in a personal injury action arising from a vehicle collision. In February 2012, the parties were in a car accident in which Bonnie Winslett was driving a car she did not own, and Terry Guthrie was riding a bicycle. In May 2012, Guthrie brought a personal injury action against Winslett. Although Guthrie properly served the complaint, Winslett failed to file an answer or otherwise respond to the action.

In August 2012, the court entered a default judgment in the amount of $2,916,204. The trial court judgment included an order requiring Guthrie to provide Winslett with a copy of the order entering the judgment. The record revealed that Guthrie failed to provide Winslett with a copy, claiming that he was unable to locate her. To make up for this, Guthrie sent a copy of the judgment to the insurance company that issued coverage on the car Winslett was driving at the time of the accident. The insurance carrier’s attorney located Winslett in September 2012.

A week later, Winslett moved to set aside or vacate the default judgment, arguing that she was mentally incompetent and had not received the notice of the judgment, among other things. The trial court denied the motion. According to the court, mental incompetency means that a person lacks the ability to manage his or her own affairs. Here, the court found sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that Winslett was not mentally incompetent. Next, Winslett sought to set aside the judgment under Section 9-11-60(d)(2) and (d)(3). Under subsection (d)(2), Winslett argued that Guthrie intentionally delayed notifying her about the judgment until the end of that court’s term.

The court rejected this argument, pointing out that Winslett may not raise the objection due to her failure to file an answer in the case in the first instance. She also argued that under subsection (d)(3), the judgment should be set aside based on a “nonamendable defect” appearing on the face of the record or the pleadings. The court rejected Winslett’s argument, which relied on a decision that concerned the failure to provide a party with notice of the date of a hearing or trial, not the entry of a default judgment. This case clearly illustrates the critical importance of reaching out to an experienced injury attorney who is fully familiar with the local laws and procedures applicable to car accident cases.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of 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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