When an Atlanta car accident is the result of a collision with a rental truck, certain issues may arise in connection with the rental company’s potential liability. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the court considered the wrongful death of a man in a truck accident. The truck was owned by U-Haul of Arizona, but rented from U-Haul of Georgia. The drivers didn’t return the truck at the end of the rental period. One driver crossed the center line and struck a car head-on, killing a man while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He was indicted for homicide. The decedent’s widow sued the U-Haul defendants for negligent entrustment, wrongful death, and punitive damages. The decedent’s surviving spouse sued both U-Hauls as well as the driver of the truck, the renter of the truck, and the driver named on the rental agreement.
The U-Haul defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. Meanwhile the driver of the U-Haul was incarcerated and asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. He and U-Haul moved for a protective order.
The plaintiff asked for a declaratory judgment that the U-Haul entities didn’t qualify as self-insurers under OCGA §§ 33-34-2 (4) and 33-34-5.1 and could therefore be held accountable for damages that exceeded the minimum insurance coverage provisions. The U-Haul defendants asked the court to dismiss, claiming they weren’t required to register as self-insurers. The lower court denied the motion to dismiss, granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings and granted a defendant’s motion to stay the proceedings and for a protective order. It granted in part the motion to take judicial notice of the U-Haul’s filing with the insurance commissioner.
The U-Haul defendants appealed the court’s denial of their motion to dismiss. The appellate court reversed and concluded there was an abuse of discretion in the lower court’s failure to review the plaintiff’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right. The appellate court explained that a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted won’t be granted unless the complaint’s allegations show with certainty the plaintiff wouldn’t be entitled to relief under any provable facts that are asserted to substantiate the claim and the party that is moving for dismissal shows that the plaintiff couldn’t possibly bring in evidence within the framework of the complaint that’s enough to warrant a grant of the relief sought.
The decedent’s wife argued that the defendant driver had waived the right against self-incrimination since he’d talked to investigators after the accident and that opposing counsel deliberately withheld information from her. She filed a motion for emergency relief asking for an evidentiary hearing on the driver’s privilege claims. She asked the lower court to take judicial notice of the Arizona U-Haul’s filing of self-insurance.
The appellate court found that the declaratory judgment action against the U-Haul defendants was not proper at this stage of litigation. It explained that under OCGA section 9-4-2 there had to be an actual controversy to sue. The decedent’s wife had to show her rights were in direct issue or jeopardy and that the facts were complete. However, the wife hadn’t shown she had standing to pursue a declaratory judgment; she had no direct relationship with the U-Haul companies and until she had a judgment in the underlying lawsuit, she only had a hypothetical economic interest. In order to get a declaratory judgment, she had to face uncertainty about a right she already possessed. What the plaintiff was asking for was an advisory opinion about to what degree U-Haul would be liable if the driver were found liable at trial.
The denial of the U-Haul defendants’ motion to dismiss was reversed. For other reasons, the Fifth Amendment issue was sent back for reconsideration by the lower court.
If you are in a rental truck accident in Atlanta, you should consult a skillful personal injury attorney. Stephen M. Ozcomert can help you work through the various claims that may be available against an opposing party, their insurer, or your own insurer when no other options exist. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
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