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Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Plaintiff’s Right to Pursue Emotional Distress Claim

Depending on the specific circumstances, a person injured in a car or truck accident may be entitled to recover damages under a variety of legal principles. Ordinarily, an accident victim will bring a negligence lawsuit against the potentially responsible parties, seeking compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering. There are many different issues that can affect the victim’s eligibility to recover damages, such as the nature and extent of one’s injuries and whether another person’s negligence caused the damages.  Of course, there are plenty of legal steps to follow and satisfy in order to successfully bring a negligence case. If you have been hurt in an accident, the best course of action is to consult with an experienced injury attorney from the Atlanta area, someone fully familiar with the local laws applicable to such cases.

In some cases, courts must get involved to determine whether a plaintiff has successfully stated a negligence claim for which relief may be sought. In a recent case, Oliver et al. v. McDade et al. (Ga. Sup. Ct. 2015), the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the court of appeals’ decision to allow a plaintiff to pursue a claim for emotional distress under the pecuniary loss rule.  In an earlier blog post, we reported on the lower court’s decision, outlining the facts of the case. To summarize, the plaintiff, John McDade, was a passenger in his own truck that was being driven by his friend Matthew Wood. The truck was towing a trailer at the time of the accident. Wood pulled over to the side of the road in order to check on and secure part of the truck’s trailer. After exiting the truck and walking toward the trailer, a tractor-trailer driven by Jerome Oliver struck the truck and Wood, killing him instantly.

McDade brought a negligence action against the driver of the tractor-trailer and its owner, seeking relief for back, neck, and knee injuries, in addition to insomnia, headaches, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The defendants moved for partial summary judgment, claiming that McDade’s emotional distress injuries stemmed from having viewed his friend’s injuries. The trial court ultimately found that the plaintiff could pursue a claim for emotional distress under the pecuniary loss rule.  Under Georgia law, “for a pecuniary loss to support a claim for damages for emotional distress, the pecuniary loss must occur as a result of a tort involving an injury to the person even though this injury may not be physical.”

The court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s denial of the partial summary judgment motion. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the plaintiff could pursue a claim for emotional distress under the pecuniary loss rule. The Court pointed out that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that his injuries, damages, and suffering were all the direct result of, and proximately caused by, the tractor-trailer driver’s negligence. According to the Court, the plaintiff is not seeking to separately recover for the emotional distress of witnessing his friend’s death. Furthermore, during a deposition, the plaintiff attributed his emotional injuries to witnessing his friend’s death and his own physical injuries.  Based on this evidence and testimony, the Court concluded that it was impossible to determine whether any part of the plaintiff’s emotional distress arises solely from witnessing his friend’s injuries.

The Court allowed the case to go forward for a jury’s determination.  This case nicely illustrates the complicated nature of certain claims for damages under negligence principles.  To identify and pursue the best course of action for your personal injury case, it is important to contact an experienced injury attorney as soon as possible. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car and truck accident 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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