One of the fundamental questions that must be resolved at the start of every lawsuit is where is the proper forum for a lawsuit to be brought. Plaintiffs may not simply bring a case anywhere they choose. Instead, the court hearing a lawsuit must have some logical connection to it, most often that the incidents giving rise to the lawsuit occurred there or that the defendants reside in that jurisdiction. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considered whether a defendant may request a change of venue to the county where he resides, when the lawsuit is brought in the place of the accident.
Negligence 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.
As 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.
During the course of a lawsuit, there are many opportunities for litigants to attempt to end a case early, without proceeding to trial. A defendant may move to dismiss a case at the early stages, arguing that the plaintiff has not alleged any real violation of the law. Later, after depositions are taken and evidence is exchanged, either party may move for summary judgment in a case, arguing that their position is so clearly the correct one that the court should go ahead and find for them at that time. When parties move for summary judgment, they must show that there are no genuine disputes over the material facts in a case, such that a court can rule on it without the case proceeding to trial. If different stories or disputes exist, a jury must be allowed to considered these different facts and weigh the evidence for itself. A recent case before the Court of Appeals in Georgia illustrates these summary judgment considerations.
While 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.
When dealing with potential liability for a car accident, not only can a driver of a vehicle be held responsible, but also the owners of the vehicle that was involved in the accident may be liable. Claims of negligent supervision, negligent training, or basic liability as an employer can all arise. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at whether such liability can be expanded even further, allowing both owners and their alter egos to be held responsible for accidents that occur.
When individuals are involved in a car or truck accident, they can typically bring a tort action against another driver or a different defendant in order to recover compensation for their injuries. However, when a plaintiff was involved in the accident while on the job, additional workers’ compensation issues may arise. Under Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws, employees are required to provide compensation and coverage when their employees are injured during the course of normal work. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered whether an employee may bring a tort action to obtain such compensation when an employer fails to provide the requisite workers’ compensation coverage.
In Saxon v. Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., Saxon was employed as a delivery helper for Talmadge Royal, which delivered ice cream to convenience stores. Saxon was performing a delivery when the delivery driver rear-ended the vehicle in front of them, causing Saxon to suffer injuries. It was undisputed that Saxon was an employee of Royal and was performing within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. However, Royal did not have workers’ compensation for its employees, and Saxon could not file a workers’ compensation request. Instead, several months later, Saxon filed a negligence claim against the delivery driver and Royal. He argued that the delivery driver had acted negligently and that Royal had been negligent in hiring and supervising the driver. Royal’s insurers quickly intervened, as did Saxon’s own insurer because his policy provided uninsured motorist coverage. The insurers moved for summary judgment, arguing that their policies did not allow Saxon to recover from Royal for the accident because his sole remedy was workers’ compensation coverage. Saxon argued that if the court took the insurer’s position, he would be denied any remedy for his injuries, and this was against public policy. The trial court disagreed and granted summary judgment. Saxon appealed.
When 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.
In states around the country, including Georgia, property owners owe individuals who come onto their property a basic duty to protect them from harm. This means that property owners cannot knowingly maintain harmful or dangerous conditions on their property, such as broken railings or deep holes, that put the public at risk. But what about circumstances in which it is not clear that the property owner is aware the dangerous condition exists? In certain circumstances, the owner can be held liable for conditions he or she should have known existed, but owners will not automatically be held liable for an unknown harm just because it caused an injury.
In Youngblood v. All American Quality Foods, Inc., Ms. Youngblood was injured after she slipped and fell in a puddle of water that had formed at a grocery store. She was injured in the accident and sued All American Quality Foods, also known as Food Depot, for her injuries. She argued that Food Depot had a duty to use ordinary care in keeping its grocery stores safe for customers. In response, Food Depot moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no notice that the water puddle existed and could not reasonably have prevented it from causing Ms. Youngblood’s injuries. The trial court agreed. Ms. Youngblood appealed.
If you are a motorist driving in Georgia, the chances are that you are sharing the road with many drivers who are not Georgia residents. Drivers may be passing through from other states on a road trip across the Southeast, or they may be visiting for a few days on a vacation. When this happens, and you are involved in an automobile accident with an out-of-state motorist, it can be more complicated to bring a lawsuit against the other driver for your injuries. Rather than simply bringing a lawsuit in the district where both you and the other driver reside, Georgia residents who are seeking to sue nonresidents must abide by the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act (NRMA). The NRMA dictates how nonresidents can be sued and how they must be notified of any pending lawsuit. A recent case before the Court of Appeals of Georgia makes clear that proper notice of suit to out-of-state residents is imperative to the success of a lawsuit against such individuals.