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Venue in a Georgia Hit and Run Lawsuit

In a recent Georgia car accident, and appellate decision was reached after the passengers in a car going southbound on I-75 were injured when an unknown driver swerved into their lane. The driver of the passenger’s car slammed on the brakes. A driver behind that car was allegedly following too closely and rear-ended the passengers’ car. The unknown driver ran away from the scene.

The passengers sued the rear-driving car and also sued the unknown driver, using a “Doe” designation under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute. Under OCGA § 33-7-11 (b) (2), a motor vehicle is deemed uninsured where an owner or operator of the motor vehicle isn’t known. The defendant sued under OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) of that statute, which states that a John Doe defendant’s home will be presumed to be the county where an injury-producing accident happens or the plaintiff’s home county.

The rear-driver moved to transfer the venue to the venue where he lived, but this motion was denied. On appeal, he asked the appellate court to consider whether the venue provision of the uninsured motorist law applied in a lawsuit related to a car crash brought against a known Georgia resident and a defendant who is unknown under the theory of joint tortfeasor liability.

The appellate court considered that the Georgia Constitution allows for venue to be in the county where the defendant lives. It also establishes that for those who live in different counties venue is appropriate in either of those counties. It doesn’t address what should happen if the residence of one of the tortfeasors isn’t known. However, OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) provides a presumption that the county should be where the accident happened or the plaintiff’s county of residence. The plaintiff passengers chose to treat the unknown driver’s home as Bibb County where the accident happened. The rear-driving defendant claimed that this violated his constitutional rights.

The appellate court explained that where the text wasn’t ambiguous it couldn’t interpret the statute in a way that departed from its plain language meaning. It explained that the case could be tried in Bibb County according to the plain language of the Constitution and the uninsured motorist statute. There was nothing in the provision that would shake the plain language interpretation.

The defendant argued that this was problematic because the Constitution requires that cases be tried where a defendant lives. He believed this provision should take precedence over the plain language of the statute and argued that to rule otherwise would mean that the uninsured motorist statute would take away the constitutional right to be sued where the defendant lived.

The appellate court explained that the provision cited by the defendant didn’t apply at all. It also found that the defendant was asking for an interpretation that would override the Georgia Constitution’s provision that joint tortfeasors who live in different counties can be tried in either of their home counties. The defendant wanted a rule that the unknown motorist was a nominal party, but the appellate court found that “nominal party” was not a term within the statute. The judgment was affirmed.

Atlanta car accident attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert can assist you in settlement negotiations and, if those are not successful, aggressively fight for your interests in court. 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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