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A state appellate court recently released an opinion in a Georgia car accident case discussing the state’s spoliation doctrine as it pertains to relevant evidence that was accidentally destroyed by a third party before trial. The spoliation doctrine is an important one for Georgia personal injury victims to understand because it can result in serious sanctions against the party that destroys or fails to preserve relevant evidence.

The Case’s Facts

The plaintiff was a widower, the surviving spouse of a woman who died when the vehicle she was driving hydroplaned after encountering standing water on the highway. The allegations were that the defendant city failed to keep a storm drain clear, resulting in the excess water accumulating on the road’s surface.

Evidently, after the accident, the plaintiff’s vehicle got towed to a scrap yard. The scrap yard demanded the plaintiff pay storage fees, or else the vehicle would be destroyed. Initially, the scrap yard contacted the plaintiff directly, but later the plaintiff’s attorney stepped in as the contact person. The plaintiffs’ attorney specifically asked that the vehicle be stored.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case requiring the court to determine whether the owner of an auto repair shop could be held liable for the actions of a mechanic who leased a portion of the shop from the owner. Ultimately, the court concluded that the owner’s duty to safely maintain the shop was non-delegable, and thus the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff took his car to a repair shop that was owned by the defendant. The defendant leased a portion of his shop to another mechanic. The agreement required that the mechanic obtain liability insurance and also stated that the mechanic would hold the defendant “harmless from any liability or damage, whether caused by [the mechanic’s] operations or otherwise.” The mechanic never obtained liability insurance coverage.

Evidently, the mechanic greeted the plaintiff, and agreed to look at his car. The mechanic pulled the plaintiff’s car into one of the shop’s bays, and placed it up on a lift. The mechanic discovered an oil leak and then lowered the car. However, as the vehicle reached the ground, it crushed the plaintiff’s foot.

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In a recent Georgia premises liability case, a court discussed a store’s obligation to maintain the area immediately around the entranceway into the building. Ultimately, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case after finding that store’s parking lot was not included in the area that the store was required to maintain.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff had just finished shopping at a Big Lots store and was walking back to her car when she slipped and fell after stepping in a wet substance in the store’s parking lot. The plaintiff was injured as a result of the fall and filed a Georgia premises liability lawsuit against Big Lots, arguing that the store was responsible for keeping its parking lot free of hazards.

The evidence presented showed that the plaintiff’s fall occurred about 45 feet from the door to the store. Additionally, the Big Lots was located in a shopping center that was owned by a third-party company, which was in charge of maintaining the parking lots. After the plaintiff fell, the store manager came out to clean up the spill, explaining, “if there’s something that needs to be handled immediately … we would take care of that ourselves temporarily until someone could get there … but the parking lot has always been handled by the landlord.”

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Under Georgia law, motorists are required to wear approved seatbelts when driving and while riding as a passenger in a car or truck, and for a good reason. Studies have repeatedly shown that seatbelt use can reduce both the frequency and severity of injuries sustained in Georgia car accidents.

As a general rule, when a plaintiff’s negligence contributes to the accident resulting in their injuries evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence is admissible. This evidence may be used to defeat a plaintiff’s claim against a defendant or to reduce the total amount of damages owed to the plaintiff by the defendant. A common question when it comes to seatbelt use is whether a motorist’s failure to use a seatbelt can be used against them in a claim for damages against another driver that caused an accident.

States are split on this issue. Some states allow seatbelt non-use evidence to be used as substantive evidence of a plaintiff’s negligence in the liability phase of a trial. In these states, jurors are able to apportion fault to the plaintiff based on the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt. Other states do not allow this evidence to be considered in the liability phase of a trial, but allow jurors to consider seatbelt nonuse evidence when calculating damages. This has the effect of reducing a plaintiff’s damages award for the “preventable” injuries that could have been avoided had the plaintiff been wearing a seatbelt.

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In Georgia negligence claims, several different types of damages may be awarded to plaintiffs who are successful in proving their case. Damages awards are often composed primarily of “compensatory” damages, which are designed to compensate a plaintiff for their injuries. The goal of compensatory damages is to make a plaintiff “whole” again, or at least to the greatest extent possible.

Compensatory damages can be broken down into general and special damages. General damages are damages that are presumed to result from the negligent act, without evidence showing a specific amount, such as past and future pain and suffering. Special damages are damages that have to be proven for a plaintiff to recover them, such as medical expenses, property damage, and lost income.

In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded in some situations. In contrast to compensatory damages, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff. Under O.C.G.A., 51-12-5.1, a punitive damages award is appropriate only in claims where the defendant’s actions showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”

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In a recent Georgia food poisoning case, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decision to dismiss a plaintiff’s case. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the appropriate burden a plaintiff bringing a food-poisoning case has at the summary judgment stage. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower courts imposed too high a burden on the plaintiffs’ case when they required the plaintiffs to make “every other reasonable hypothesis regarding the cause of their illness.”

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were two wedding guests who became violently ill several days after consuming food prepared by the defendant caterer at the wedding rehearsal dinner. The plaintiffs filed a Georgia products liability case against the caterer, claiming that the food was “defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared.”

The defendant caterer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ case should be dismissed because they did not present sufficient evidence that the defendant’s food caused their illness. In support of its motion, the defendant caterer made the following arguments:

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In a recent case, a plaintiff brought a wrongful death claim against the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and construction contractors on behalf of her parents who died in a car accident. According to the court’s written opinion, in October 2011, the plaintiff was driving behind her parents’ car on a Georgia interstate when a vehicle hit the side of her parents’ car, which then veered off the road, hit the guardrails and a concrete bridge piling and burst into flames.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury case, claiming that the construction contractors who did construction work were liable for her parents’ deaths. The trial court dismissed the case, but the plaintiff appealed. She argued in part that the construction contractors were liable because the GDOT had not accepted the contractors’ work and reassumed control of the site before the accident occurred.

In 2010, the GDOT had entered into a contract with two construction companies to resurface the asphalt along a portion of the highway. A fence and guardrail company was supposed to complete improvements to the guardrails as well. The construction contractors completed the work, and the GDOT inspected the project and issued a maintenance acceptance letter with regard to the project. The final inspection was completed in November 2010. Then GDOT issued a maintenance acceptance letter in December 2011, and in the letter, reassumed control of the highway portion on January 4, 2011.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case discussing the issue of a plaintiff’s diminished future earning capacity, as well as the expert testimony necessary to establish such a claim. The court ultimately determined that the jury’s award was supported by the evidence and affirmed the $2 million verdict.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, who was a competitive high-jumper, was involved in a serious car accident with the defendant. Initially, the plaintiff designated an expert who was to testify regarding the impact the accident had on the plaintiff’s personal life and athletic career. The court created a timeline for the case, and assigned certain deadlines. The deadline for the disclosure of witnesses was set for May 12, 2017.

On May 12, 2017, the plaintiff substituted the expert he planned to call as a witness, and amended a previous statement to the court, clarifying that he would be seeking compensation for “diminished earning capacity, diminished ability to work, labor or earn wages.”

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Georgia car accident case discussing what venues are appropriate in a case brought against multiple motorists, one of which was an uninsured motorist (UIM). The case required the court to determine if the venue-selection clause in the state’s UIM statute applies to cases involving a named defendant in addition to an unknown, “John Doe” defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the UIM statute did apply, and affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the named defendant’s request to transfer venue to his home county.

Georgia’s Uninsured Motorist Statute as Applied to Hit-and-Run Drivers

When a motorist causes an accident, anyone injured as a result of that driver’s negligence can pursue a claim for damages against the driver. However, after a Georgia hit-and-run accident, the injury victim will not be able to file a case against the driver because his identity is unknown.

Thankfully, most Georgia insurance policies contain UIM coverage and a plaintiff can proceed with a case against the hit-and-run driver by naming “John Doe” as a defendant. Under the state’s UIM statute, any “John Doe” driver is deemed to be uninsured and “shall be presumed to be in the county in which the accident causing injury or damages occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the plaintiff in the action.”

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant due to the fact that the plaintiff waited too long to file her case. In deciding the case, the court had to consider whether a clause in the residential lease between the two parties that limited the amount of time the plaintiff had to file a lawsuit against the defendant was enforceable. Ultimately, the court concluded that the clause was enforceable, and thus, the plaintiff’s case was time-barred.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell after stepping on a curb that crumbled when she stepped on it. The curb was located in a common area in the apartment complex where the plaintiff lived. Approximately two years after she fell, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant corporation that owned and operated the complex.

Prior to moving into her apartment, both the plaintiff and a representative of the defendant signed a residential lease agreement. Contained in that agreement was a clause whereby the plaintiff agreed that any claims against the defendant would be brought within one year. The normal statute of limitations for a personal injury case in Georgia is two years. The defendant argued that the lease agreement was binding and that the plaintiff was required to have brought her case within one year of her injury.

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