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Plaintiff Injured in Truck Accident May Recover Damages for Emotional Distress under Georgia Law

Accidents involving cars and trucks often cause serious damages and devastating injuries. In some cases, a victim may suffer for quite a while after the collision. Tragically, some victims are killed in these accidents. No matter what an accident victim has experienced or endured, it is important to know that at the very least, he or she may be entitled to compensation for any suffering and losses. There are many avenues of relief, and the simplest way to discover what you may be entitled to is to contact an experienced injury attorney who is fully aware of the laws affecting cases brought in and around the Atlanta area.

A recent case, Oliver et al., v. McDade et al. (Ga. Ct. of App. 2014), illustrates the complicated nature of seeking relief after sustaining injuries in a truck accident, under specific Georgia state laws. Here, John McDade brought a negligence claim against defendant Jerome Oliver and the owner of the tractor-trailer he was driving at the time of the accident. According to the evidence at trial, McDade was a passenger in his own truck, which was being driven by his good friend, Matthew Wood. Once they entered the on ramp of I-16 in Dublin, Georgia, Wood pulled over to the side of the road to secure part of the trailer, exited the truck, and walked back toward the trailer.

Oliver swerved the tractor-trailer he was driving onto the shoulder of I-16, striking the trailer and McDade’s truck. Tragically, Wood was crushed between the trailer and the truck and killed instantly. After the accident, McDade saw the horrific injuries suffered by his deceased friend. McDade brought this action against Oliver, the owner of the tractor-trailer, and his liability insurance carrier, seeking relief for neck, back, and knee injuries, as well as insomnia, headaches, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The defendants sought partial summary judgment on McDade’s claims based on emotional distress stemming from having viewed the injuries to his friend. At first, the trial court granted the relief, noting that under Georgia law, bystanders may not recover for emotional distress as a result of witnessing another person’s injuries.

Upon “reconsideration,” the trial court ultimately concluded that McDade could instead pursue a claim for emotional distress under the “pecuniary loss” rule. The defendants appealed. On appeal, they characterized McDade’s claims as including emotional distress based on viewing his deceased friend. But the court of appeals noted that his complaint alleged straightforward negligence claims, namely that the defendants’ negligence proximately caused and directly resulted in all of the plaintiff’s injuries, damages, and suffering. As a result, McDade may be eligible to recover emotional distress damages under the state pecuniary loss rule. Under state case law, a plaintiff may be entitled to recover such damages as a result of a defendant’s negligence, notwithstanding the absence of physical injury. Under this theory of recovery, a plaintiff must have suffered a pecuniary loss and an injury, but not necessary a physical one.

The court deemed McDade’s evidence of nonphysical injuries (his depression), as well as the pecuniary loss (cost of seeking medical treatment for the depression), sufficient to seek emotional distress damages under Georgia’s pecuniary loss rule.

As we can see from this tragic case, the importance of consulting with a local injury attorney cannot be overstated. 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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