Tragedy recently struck on Interstate 95 near an exit ramp in Liberty County, Georgia, when a wrong-way driver crashed head-on into a car carrying five people, including three children. According to a local news report, the responsible driver was a 77-year-old man who was driving alone in an SUV and heading south in a northbound lane. The crash killed him and the five individuals in the second SUV, a family from Virginia traveling with their three children, ages 4 to 14. The accident resulted in lane closures at the scene for more than three hours as investigators responded and identified the victims.

When tragic incidents such as this one occur because an individual was driving the wrong way on a highway, there are a variety of claims that might be available to injured victims or a deceased victim’s estate. If the negligent driver survived the crash, he could be personally liable to the victims and their estates through a civil negligence suit or a wrongful death suit. These suits, if successful, typically require the defendant to pay significant damages to the injured victims or their estates.

However, in cases where the negligent driver also dies in the crash, that driver’s insurance company may still be on the hook for any damages caused by the at-fault driver. In addition, there may be other opportunities for recovery. For instance, if the driver was working for someone else when the crash occurred — such as a pizza delivery service — the driver’s employer could be responsible for the employee’s actions through the doctrine of vicarious liability. This would require the accident victim to prove that the driver was operating his vehicle in the scope of his employment when the crash occurred. Another potential avenue for relief is suing the local and state government agencies responsible for maintaining clear and visible road signs. While pursuing a claim against a government entity can present certain challenges, if the driver was confused by a poorly maintained, obscured, or missing road sign, and the city or state may be liable.

Recently, the Court of Appeals of Georgia issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by a surviving spouse of a man who died after falling into an open well. The man was driving his four-wheeler on a tract of land when his wheel entered a well that was covered by vegetation. His vehicle flipped over, and the man fell into the well.

The man’s wife filed a negligence lawsuit against several parties, including a forestry services company, based on OCGA § 44-1-14, which requires that individuals must report abandoned wells located on any public or private property to relevant county officials. She argued that the forestry company performed work on the property and negligently failed to report the well to the property owner. The defendant asked the court to dismiss the case because, amongst other issues, the plaintiff was unable to present evidence that the defendant knew of the well before her husband’s death or breached any duty to him.

Under Georgia law, plaintiffs in negligence actions must provide evidence that the defendant owed a legal duty to the victim, that they breached that duty, that a causal connection exists between the conduct and injury, and that the plaintiff suffered damages. In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant was liable under the theory of negligence per se for violating OCGA § 44-1-14 because they did not report the well.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a decision discussing whether a trial court could exclude an expert witness because they were identified after the discovery deadline. The issue on appeal arose after the plaintiff, a world-renowned high jumper, suffered serious injuries in a car accident. After the defendant admitted fault, the plaintiff filed a Georgia personal injury lawsuit requesting damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other relief the trial court found appropriate. During pretrial proceedings, the trial court set May 12th as the scheduling, discovery, and case management deadline.

In response to the complaint, the defendant asked the plaintiff to identify any expert witnesses that could attest to the plaintiff’s loss of future earnings. On the last day for identifying witnesses, the plaintiff supplemented his discovery response and presented an additional expert witness. About one month after the scheduling deadline, the defendant notified the plaintiff that he planned to call a rebuttal witness. The trial court excluded the defendant’s witness because he was not named by the May 12th deadline. On appeal, the defendant argued that he did not learn of the witness until the last day of the discovery deadline, and therefore his rebuttal witness should not be excluded.

In Georgia civil cases, the court generally cannot exclude an expert witness solely because they were identified after the court’s deadlines. Trial courts should consider various factors to determine whether expert witness exclusion is appropriate. The main factors include, the reason for the failure to timely disclose the witness, the importance of the expert’s testimony, the prejudice to the opposing party if the witness is allowed to testify, and whether there is an alternative remedy than the exclusion of the witness.

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently issued an opinion in a plaintiffs’ appeal of a summary judgment order entered in favor of their insurance company. The appeal concerns the type and amount of coverage available under an insurance policy the plaintiffs purchased. The case presents common issues that Georgia injury victims face when trying to recover from at-fault drivers and insurance companies.

In 2010, the plaintiffs purchased automobile insurance in the standard coverage limits, which were $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. In 2012 the plaintiffs increased their standard coverage amount to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. At that time, the insurance company did not offer the plaintiffs an increase of their UM coverage. About three years after the policy increase, the woman suffered serious injuries in a Georgia car accident. The at-fault driver settled with the woman at the cap of their insurance policy, which was $100,000. The amount did not cover the woman’s medical bills or her husband’s loss of consortium claim. As such, the plaintiffs filed a claim with their insurance company for the remaining balance. The couple argued that the insurance company violated a statutory duty to offer them an increase in their UM coverage when they increased their standard coverage.

Under Georgia law, automobile insurance policies must contain uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage provisions. Unless the insured affirmatively chooses a lower UM coverage amount, the amount must be at least $25,00 person and $50,00 per accident, or the level of standard coverage-whichever is higher. The statute provides that insurers offer or provide the minimum UM coverage at issuance or delivery of the policy. However, an exception exists that states that insurance companies do not need to provide the coverage as supplements to a renewal policy where the coverage was previously rejected.

Recently, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a defendant’s appeal of a trial court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment. The case arose after a woman suffered injuries at her apartment complex. The woman went to the apartment complex’s car cleaning area to vacuum her daughter’s car. As she stepped out of the car to reach for the vacuum, she tripped and fell backward. She subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the apartment complex, arguing that she fell on a foreign substance.

During the deposition, the woman conceded that she did not know what caused her to fall backward or what caused her foot to slip. However, when the woman’s attorney asked her about why she thought she fell, the woman responded that she believed she slid on slippery rocks. The woman further testified that the stones were dry, and she did not come into contact with any liquid. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no evidence of any dangerous condition. The trial court denied the motion, holding that a jury could find that the rocks may have been slippery from the car wash area.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding based on the plaintiff’s failure to present evidence of a dangerous condition. Under Georgia law, plaintiffs who do not prove the cause of their injuries cannot recover for their damages. In slip and fall cases, plaintiffs must establish the existence of a dangerous condition on the premises. Proof of a fall, without more, does not automatically create liability on the part of the business owner.

In a recent opinion, a Georgia appellate court recently addressed several issues stemming from a car accident involving a teen driver and a pedestrian who was walking his dog. One of the prevalent issues on appeal is whether the defendant’s “Act of God” defense was enough to avoid liability for the injuries that the plaintiff sustained.

The case arose after the teen driver hit the pedestrian and his dog as they were in a cross-walk near a large grocery store. The driver argued that she should not be liable for the accident because the sun blocked her vision, and she was unable to see the plaintiff or his dog. The appellate court found that the trial court appropriately granted the plaintiffs motion for summary judgment on the defendant’s act of God defense.

In Georgia car accident cases, an act of God defense is an affirmative defense. Therefore, the law requires plaintiffs to “pierce” the defense to successfully move for summary judgment. In other words, plaintiffs bear the burden of proving that the defendant’s affirmative defense is insufficient under the law. If the plaintiff meets that burden, then the defendant must show that there is a genuine issue of material fact.

In a recent opinion, the Court of Appeals of Georgia addressed the state’s fraud exception for tolling the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases. Evidently, a woman appealed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of a hospital. The woman appealed on the basis that the statute of limitations should not bar her claim because the hospital engaged in fraud.

According to the court’s opinion, the woman’s husband was experiencing abdominal pain and was transported to a hospital. During his stay, a doctor ordered a CT scan, and he underwent several other tests and examinations. The hospital did not administer the CT scan until four days after the initial physician’s order. The CT scan revealed that the man was suffering from a colon perforation, and he required two surgeries. During the last operation, physicians discovered that his condition was terminal, and he passed away several hours later.

The man’s wife filed a lawsuit about four years later against the hospital, alleging that the hospital was negligent in caring for and treating her husband. The hospital moved to dismiss the case based on the state’s statute of limitations. Georgia law requires that medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years after the date of the incident giving rise to the action occurs. In most cases arising from negligent treatment or misdiagnosis, the statute of limitations begins running at the time of the misdiagnosis or negligent treatment.

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing an issue that frequently comes up in premises liability cases.  Specifically, the case involved the “superior knowledge” requirement.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff suffered injuries when he fell through a skylight that he was dismantling at a church. The church recently purchased a building from a defunct hospital, and the plaintiff, another church member, and a pastor undertook the disassembling. The plaintiff volunteered to remove the structure based on his previous experience working with a contractor to rebuild a shed at his house. The pastor at the church used a forklift to lift the plaintiff and the other church member onto the roof. No one was wearing a hardhat or any other safety harnesses. The plaintiff did not hear a warning to watch out for a skylight and subsequently fell through the light and suffered severe injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the church and the hospital. He alleged that the church was liable because he was an invitee of the church, so the hospital and the church owed him a duty to exercise reasonable care to make sure that the roof was safe.

Under Georgia law, the crux of a premises liability lawsuit often hinges on the property owner’s superior knowledge of the dangerous condition. Plaintiffs cannot recover damages if they could have avoided their injuries by exercising ordinary care. Furthermore, Georgia courts generally look at whether the plaintiff exhibited common sense to prevent their injuries. Usually, Georgia slip and fall cases involve two types of cases:  static defect claims and foreign substance claims.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia released an opinion in a Georgia dog bite case. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was walking her dog when another dog escaped its owner’s yard and attacked her. The woman suffered various injuries as a result of the attack, and she subsequently filed a lawsuit against the dog’s owners.

After her initial complaint, the woman amended her lawsuit by adding the dog owner’s landlord. She alleged that the landlord was liable under OGCA § 44-7-14 because he failed to keep the property in proper repair. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the dog was able to escape because the landlord failed to fix a broken gate latch. The landlord filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that although he breached his duty to repair the gate, the plaintiff did not show that the dog ever exhibited dangerous propensities or that the landlord knew of any dangerous tendencies. The trial court granted summary judgment in the landlord’s favor, and the plaintiff appealed. The appellate court reversed the ruling, and the defendant appealed.

Generally, under Georgia law, individuals who suffer injuries because of a dog bite or attack must establish that the dog was dangerous or had vicious propensities, that the owner had superior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies, and that the owner acted negligently. Georgia dog bite lawsuits can be challenging because proving viciousness is difficult, especially if the attack occurred in a Georgia county without a “leash law.” Furthermore, plaintiffs often face difficulties establishing that the dog owner had superior knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensities. Plaintiffs may face even more barriers to recovery when they try to hold a negligent landlord liable for their injuries.

Georgia does not experience many incidents of winter weather; however, that is all the more reason that car accidents are more frequent during these times. The United States Department of Transportation reports that every year, over 135,000 people suffer injuries, and over 1600 people die in weather-related accidents. Fatal accidents are most likely to occur during the winter season when ice or snow is present. Drivers must take proper steps to avoid a Georgia weather-related car accident. Georgia drivers that fail to do so may face liability for the injuries that their negligence causes.

Although some accidents may not be anyone’s fault, many accidents can be avoided if motorists engage in safe driving practices. Even though blizzards are rare in Georgia, many regions experience snow every year, and the mountainous areas experience frequent snowfalls totaling almost 20 inches a year. Accumulated snow can pose many hazards to Georgia drivers and passengers, especially those that do not have experience navigating these weather conditions. Many drivers do not reduce their speed, and this can result in a loss of control and collisions. Additionally, many drivers fail to keep a safe following distance, and this can result in difficulty braking in time and subsequently rear-ending other drivers.

Ice and freezing rain are much more common than snow in the state, and these conditions are often more dangerous than snow. Inexperienced and unsafe drivers should take precautions before getting on the road. Precautions include things such as, making sure they clear their windshields and mirrors, have appropriate tires, and working headlights.