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Public Duty Doctrine Protects City From Liability in Negligence Action

Plaintiffs in a personal injury action arising from a car accident typically bring a negligence lawsuit against the other driver or drivers involved in the collision.  But negligence actions can arise from any number of circumstances, and the facts and parties involved can make a huge difference in the outcome of the proceedings.  In order to achieve the maximum recovery, it is critical that a person who has been injured in a car accident reach out to an experienced injury attorney who is fully apprised of the local laws, rules and procedures in the Atlanta court system.

In certain cases, a plaintiff may not be able to recover damages for injuries sustained in a car accident.  In a recent Georgia Supreme Court case, Stevenson v. City of Doraville, et al., Ga. Sup. Ct. (2013), the plaintiff was injured while driving on Interstate 285 during a rainstorm.  He was in the lane nearest the median of the six-lane highway when his car started malfunctioning.  The plaintiff tried to maneuver his car over to the right shoulder of the road, but he only reached the third lane from the right.  At that point, he saw a police vehicle with its emergency lights on near the right shoulder of the road. The officer turned on his flashing lights when he saw that the plaintiff was having car trouble.  Once the car stopped moving, the officer’s vehicle was to the right and behind the plaintiff’s.

The plaintiff turned on his hazard lights and waited in the car for the officer’s assistance.  The officer however reported the problem and decided not to try to approach the stalled vehicle due to the traffic on the road. After waiting for a few minutes without receiving any assistance, the plaintiff got out of his car and tried to get the attention of the officer.  Moments later a tractor-trailer truck hit his car, which next crashed into the plaintiff, resulting in a multi-vehicle accident.  The plaintiff sued the City of Doraville and the officer claiming that he was negligent in failing to redirect traffic away from the disabled car and thereby causing the traffic to move toward the plaintiff’s car by turning on his emergency lights while stopped at the outer lane of the highway right near the plaintiff’s car.

The trial court concluded that “official immunity” protected the officer from liability and the “public duty doctrine” barred the claims against the City.  Plaintiff appealed, claiming that the public duty doctrine did not apply because he had alleged affirmative acts of negligence, and even if it did apply, he fell under the “special relationship” exception set forth in an earlier Georgia case. The court of appeals affirmed the decision, finding the plaintiff’s arguments lacked merit.  The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the decision, refusing to find that a police officer’s decision to turn on his emergency lights while stopped on the side of the highway to assess the situation involving a stalled vehicle at night on a busy road amounted to an act of negligence.  The court also refused to find that plaintiff’s situation fell within the special relationship exception to the public duty doctrine.

As this case shows, a negligence lawsuit can be complicated and can turn on any number of legal factors.  If you have been injured in a car accident due to the negligence of another, it is critical that you contact an experienced injury attorney in the Atlanta area.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling automobile accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another’s 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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