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Personal Injury Claim Arising from Tractor-Trailer Accident Goes to the Jury

Victims in vehicle accidents often bring their claims for damages in Georgia courts. One type that occurs fairly often on highways in and around the Atlanta area is a “rear-end” collision. Courts have found that in rear-end accident cases, liability on the part of any driver involved in the collision depends on a factual determination of issues such as diligence, negligence, and proximate cause. Established case law in this jurisdiction requires that a jury – not a judge – have an opportunity to resolve and determine these issues. Since there are many important legal factors to consider and address in any vehicle accident case, it is important to consult an experienced injury attorney who is fully aware of the local laws affecting your case.

In a recent case, Dogan v. Buff et al. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), the plaintiff was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer driven by the defendant. According to the evidence, the plaintiff was driving a van in the center lane of I-75, a five-lane highway. The defendant was driving a tractor-trailer (owned by his employer) behind the plaintiff. The defendant’s employer’s trucking manual dictated that drivers must keep at least one truck length between the driver’s truck and any vehicle in front of it for every 10 miles per hour of speed.

A collision of two other cars occurred directly in front of the plaintiff in the center lane. The plaintiff and the defendant both merged into the next lane to avoid the crash. The plaintiff stopped his van due to traffic. The defendant tried to brake in time to avoid hitting the plaintiff but rear-ended him. While both vehicles sustained damages, the plaintiff was physically injured and brought to the hospital. At the time of the collision, the defendant was only three car-lengths behind the plaintiff.

The plaintiff brought this action to recover damages for his personal injuries. The defendant and his trucking company moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff appealed, arguing (among other things) that there were questions of fact regarding the defendant’s failure to exercise ordinary care at the time of the collision. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the lower court’s decision.

The court pointed out relevant case law suggesting that all drivers of vehicles on Georgia highways are expected to exercise due care, including the leading vehicle and the following vehicle. Specifically, drivers in both positions have certain responsibilities on the road. The lead vehicle should not stop, slow up, or veer from its course without sufficient warning to following vehicles. In turn, the following vehicle is expected to exercise ordinary care to avoid a collision with other vehicles, whether they are in front or behind the driver.

Here, the court found that the plaintiff raised a jury question as to whether the defendant failed to exercise ordinary care by possibly following him too closely. Of significance is the fact that both the defendant and his accident reconstruction expert admitted that the defendant might have been following plaintiff too closely and that such conduct could have contributed to the accident. Furthermore, according to the testimony, the defendant failed to comply with the company’s safety manual.

The court’s decision effectively placed the question of liability in the jury’s hands to determine at trial. This case illustrates the importance of understanding the elements of a negligence case as it pertains to a truck or car accident claim. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling 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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