The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion addressing the applicability of the family purpose doctrine in a Georgia car accident lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, the accident occurred in 2016 when a minor was driving a car with her father as a passenger. As the teenager approached an intersection and began to turn left, the defendant was approaching the same intersection and continued straight into the plaintiff’s car. The defendant struck the passenger side of the plaintiff’s car resulting in the father’s death.

The father’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. In response, the defendant asserted a counterclaim for damages, arguing that the daughter’s negligence caused the accident. Additionally, the defendant evoked Georgia’s family purpose doctrine as an affirmative defense.

Georgia’s family purpose doctrine allows a car accident victim to hold the owner of the at-fault vehicle liable for damages if they can establish certain factors. Under the theory, the party evoking this doctrine must be able to prove that:

  • The defendant owned or had control of the vehicle involved in the accident;
  • The negligent driver was a qualifying family member living in the household of the owner;
  • The owner allowed the driver to use the car for “pleasure, comfort or convenience” of that family member;
  • The vehicle was being driven with the consent of the owner and for a “family purpose” when the accident occurred, and;
  • The circumstances amounted to an agency relationship between the owner and the qualifying family member.

Continue reading ›

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a Georgia dog bite lawsuit. The case required the court to discuss the availability of punitive damages in certain Georgia personal injury lawsuits.

The plaintiff was a mail carrier who suffered serious injuries after a large dog attacked her during her route. According to the court’s opinion, on the day of the accident, the plaintiff needed to deliver packages to the dog owner’s front door. As she approached the door, the dog owner’s youngest son came out of the front door to accept the packages. When the mail carrier was returning to her vehicle, she heard the young boy exclaim “no,” and saw the dog was near her leg.

The 60-pound dog bit the plaintiff’s leg, and although she was able to kick him off her leg, the dog latched onto her arm. The dog owner’s older son heard the commotion and came to help pry the dog’s jaws open, at which point the dog finally released the woman’s arm. The woman called emergency personnel, who discovered various other bites on her body. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the homeowner, and a jury awarded her personal injury and punitive damages. The dog owner appealed, arguing that the woman was not entitled to punitive damages.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal from a judgment in favor of a plaintiff in her lawsuit against the City of Atlanta. The woman filed a lawsuit to recover for damages she incurred after driving into an open manhole. The woman contended that the government should be liable for her injuries because the manhole was a public nuisance. The city appealed a jury finding in favor of the woman, arguing that the woman did not meet her evidentiary burden.

Under Georgia law, a municipality “may be held liable for damages it causes to a third party from the operation or maintenance of a nuisance, irrespective of whether it is exercising a governmental or municipal function.” To recover for damages plaintiffs must present evidence that:

  1. The severity of the defect is a result of conduct that exceeds mere negligence;

Needing surgery can be a scary thing, and Georgia patients need to find doctors and surgeons that they trust to perform their procedures. Typically, operations in Georgia go well, and there are no issues or concerns. Occasionally, however, mistakes may be made, and accidents may occur, which can lead to significant injuries or even the death of the patient. When this does tragically happen, Georgia patients have the right to sue their negligent medical providers, to recover financially for the harm the medical provider’s mistake or carelessness caused.

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently considered a medical malpractice case brought against the nurses at a hospital where the patient was treated. According to the court’s written opinion, the patient arrived for surgery on the morning of December 16, 2014. The patient was supposed to receive an antibiotic within one hour before the surgery began, and records show that she was given the antibiotic at 12:40 p.m. However, there is a significant dispute over whether the surgery started at 12:05 or 1:05 p.m., as there are medical records that have both times written on them.

What is clear, however, is that the patient, twenty days after the surgery, went back to the hospital complaining of drainage from the surgery wound. The problem continued to occur, even after a wound cleaning, and several days later, the patient suffered neurological deficits caused by an abscess, including right-sided paralysis. Over the next two years, the patient claims that she had to undergo multiple surgeries and therapies and suffered from permanent neurological injuries, all resulting from the initial brain infection. She sued the hospital and medical professionals who worked on her surgery, including the nurses, in December of 2016, alleging failure to properly administer the antibiotic within one hour before the surgery.

In a recent appellate opinion, a Georgia slip and fall injury victim appealed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a store owner. On appeal, the woman argued that the trial court erred in finding that the store did not contain a dangerous condition, that she possessed knowledge of the defects, and that the distraction theory could not apply.

The case stems from injuries that the woman suffered when she visited the store. The woman’s neighbor drove her to the store and parked her car on the side of the store. The parking lot contained parking abutments in the parking spaces; parking for disabled vehicles had blue abutments. When the woman was leaving the store, she walked by a sidewalk display and became distracted by the display racks and other customers. As she stepped down from the sidewalk, she hit a slanted parking abutment and fell forward, suffering serious injuries to her knee, elbow, and head. Her lawsuit against the store alleged that the store breached its duty to keep their property safe.

Under Georgia law, premises liability plaintiffs must show that their injuries were the result of a hazard on an owner’s premises that they should have removed in the exercise of ordinary care. The two main elements that Georgia slip and fall or trip and fall victims must establish is that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard, and the plaintiff, despite exhibiting ordinary care, lacked knowledge of the danger because of the defendant. Moreover, where static conditions are at issue, if a person has previously successfully negotiated the condition, the person is presumed to have equal knowledge, and therefore cannot recover for subsequent resulting injuries. Further, if nothing obstructs the injury victim’s view, the owner may appropriately assume that the invitee will realize any associated risks. In these instances, plaintiffs may assert the distraction theory. The distraction theory includes situations where the plaintiff’s attention is distracted because of a natural and usual cause. However, merely failing to look ahead will not relieve their responsibility.

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.

Contact Information