Articles Posted in Accident Law

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Although contract interpretation may not seem relevant in personal injury claims, contracts often come into play, particularly in Georgia car accident cases. In a recent case, a court considered the language of an insurance contract in determining whether a car crash was covered under the policy.

Side Impact CrashIn that case, an auction company was conducting an automobile auction when one of its employees struck audience members with a car. The employee said that the car’s accelerator stuck, which caused him to lose control of the car. The car was owned by a charitable organization, and the auction company argued that the claims against it were covered by the defendant’s insurance policy as the charitable organization’s insurer. The defendant claimed the incident was not covered, and the auction company brought a claim against the insurer.

The court looked at the insurance company’s contract to determine whether the auction company was insured under the policy. The policy listed the named insured as the charitable organization and its business as “used auto dealer.” The car was covered for the purposes of the policy. The policy stated that for covered vehicles, the insurer would pay all sums the “insured” was legally required to pay because of bodily injury or property damage, caused by an accident resulting from “garage operations.” The policy defined “insured” as:  the organization for any covered vehicle, and anyone else using a covered vehicle the organization owned, hired, or borrowed, with the organization’s permission, except if someone was selling, servicing, repairing, parking, or storing vehicles, unless it was part of the organization’s “garage operations.”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Georgia car accident case, raising the question of whether the accident victim was entitled to compensation from his own insurance carrier under the underinsured motorist clause of the insurance policy. The court ultimately determined that, although the insurance contract clearly prevented the plaintiff from being compensated given the specific facts of the case, that clause was unenforceable because it was contrary to Georgia’s Underinsured Motorist statute.

Rear-End AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a serious car accident. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the other driver. However, the plaintiff soon realized that the other driver did not have adequate insurance to compensate him for the injuries he sustained in the accident. The plaintiff received $25,000 from the other driver’s insurance company.

The plaintiff, who was employed at the time of the accident, also obtained workers’ compensation benefits in the amount of nearly $200,000. However, these benefits provided a weekly benefit that was less than what the plaintiff was normally earning, and they did not include any compensation for pain and suffering or future medical expenses. Thus, the plaintiff was still owed compensation for his lost wages as well as compensation for his pain and suffering and future medical expenses.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a woman who was struck by a hit-and-run driver. While the identity of the driver remained unknown, the plaintiff was able to obtain the license plate of the car as the driver left the scene. In a case against the vehicle’s owner, the court allowed the plaintiff to proceed toward a trial or settlement, finding that she has a legally cognizable claim.

Rear-View MirrorThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was struck by an unidentified male motorist. However, as the hit-and-run driver fled the scene, the plaintiff was able to obtain the license plate of the vehicle and provided it to the responding police officer. The officer looked up the vehicle’s information, finding the owner’s name, and determined that the vehicle was owned by a woman who the plaintiff acknowledged was not driving at the time of the accident.

Once the plaintiff had the owner’s name, she then sought insurance information for the vehicle. The insurance request came back with another woman’s name. The plaintiff initially filed a personal injury lawsuit against the woman who insured the car. Later, she asked the court to add the vehicle’s owner to the case as well. The court denied the plaintiff’s request to add the vehicle’s owner, finding that the issue was moot because the owner was not an “indispensable party” because she was not driving the car.

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Last month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a case that was brought by a woman who was struck by the defendant’s vehicle at night. The court ultimately determined that the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to give rise to a material issue of fact, and thus the trial court was proper to dismiss the plaintiff’s case rather than allow it to be heard by a jury.

CrosswalkThe Facts of the Case

After returning home from work on a November evening, the plaintiff decided to talk a walk along the road near where she lived. The plaintiff was wearing all black, and it was about 7:30 at night. The plaintiff was walking alongside the road on a worn footpath, since there was no sidewalk in the area where she was walking. She passed a crosswalk, determining that it was not a good place to cross due to the fact that it was located at the top of a small hill, and visibility was reduced. Instead, the plaintiff walked for a few more minutes along the road before attempting to cross.

The plaintiff looked both ways before starting to cross the four-lane road. She noticed the defendant’s vehicle approaching but decided to cross anyhow. Once she reached the median, she again looked and saw that the defendant’s vehicle was still approaching. The plaintiff testified that she could not tell how fast the defendant’s vehicle was moving, but she would not have begun to cross if she thought the vehicle was speeding. However, as the plaintiff started to cross, she was struck by the defendant’s vehicle. The responding police officer cited the plaintiff for “darting” out into traffic and for walking on the roadway while intoxicated. The defendant was not cited.

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In a recent decision, a Georgia court of appeals dismissed a woman’s lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT), finding that she failed to satisfy the requirements in her “ante litem,” or pre-lawsuit, notice. The woman sued the DOT, alleging that one of its employees had negligently caused a crash in which the woman was injured. The DOT argued that the case should be dismissed because the woman’s ante litem notice did not specify the amount of damages claimed.

Rule BookIn Georgia, the Georgia Tort Claims Act requires a party with a tort claim against the State to provide the State with written notice before filing the claim. The notice has to specify the “amount of loss claimed.” The notice must provide this information “to the extent of the claimant’s knowledge and belief and as may be practicable under the circumstances.”

In the woman’s ante litem notice, which she filed about a week after the crash, she stated that as a result of the collision, she suffered great pain and suffering. She claimed her total damages had “not yet been determined” because she was “still under the care of her treating physician,” and she would “claim the full amount of damages allowed by law.”

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Georgia courts have the power to issue legally binding rulings in the matters that are properly presented before them. However, before a court can hear a case and issue a ruling, certain procedures must be followed. One of the first procedures that must be followed in any personal injury lawsuit is for the plaintiff to serve notice of the lawsuit to each and every party who is named as a defendant.

Handing Off PapersIn Georgia, proper service must contain the parties’ names, the name and address of the plaintiff’s attorney, and the time and date that the defendant must appear before the court. Service can be made by a sheriff, a process server, or anyone else specifically appointed by the court to effectuate service. If a plaintiff fails to properly serve one or more defendants, the plaintiff will almost certainly run into problems down the road. A recent case in front of the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates the issue of how improper service can significantly delay a plaintiff’s case and potentially result in an early dismissal.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit, claiming that the school bus driver was negligent in the operation of the vehicle and that the school district was also liable through the theories of vicarious liability, negligent entrustment, and negligent hiring.

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In a recent case in front of a Georgia appellate court, a man filed a premises liability claim against the property management company that managed his apartment complex after he was shot when his home was burglarized. However, in the case of George v. Hercules Real Estate Services, Inc., the court affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the property management company.

Door KnobAccording to the facts as recounted in the most recent court opinion, the plaintiff moved into an Atlanta apartment in November 2010. On June 11, 2011, the plaintiff’s apartment was burglarized between midnight and 2:00 a.m. The property management company repaired the front door and installed a metal burglar guard. The plaintiff also bought a gun after the incident for protection. On July 27, 2011, the man was home with a friend when someone knocked on his door. He looked outside but could only see that someone was outside, and he could not see who it was. He opened the door and propped his foot against it, but a second person appeared, and the two forced their way into the man’s apartment. The plaintiff shot at the intruders, but they fired back, and the plaintiff was shot four times.

The plaintiff alleged the company was negligent in failing to keep the premises in proper repair, failing to provide adequate security, and failing to keep the premises safe. In support of his claim, he provided evidence that there had been prior crimes at the apartment complex before this incident occurred.

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In a recent case, a woman sued a tire manufacturer after her husband died in a tragic car accident. She alleged that the company was liable based on negligent design and manufacturing, strict liability, and failure to warn, arising from the tire’s tread separation. The parties exchanged discovery, and during that period, the company learned the woman had kept only the “carcass” of the tire from the accident. The issue arose whether the woman should have retained the entire vehicle, and if so, whether she should face any court sanctions for destroying the vehicle.

TireApparently, after the accident had occurred, a service came to transport the wrecked car. The owner of the service later told the woman she was incurring a daily storage fee to keep the car there. The company’s owner offered to sell the car to a salvage yard in exchange for waiving the fee. The car had been totaled, so the woman did not see any reason to keep the car and agreed to allow the owner to sell the car. At the time, the woman’s husband was still alive in critical condition and had told the woman the tire had blown up and caused the accident. Thus, thinking the tire may be a necessary piece of evidence, the woman told the owner to keep the left rear tire. Although the tire itself was saved, the remnants of the detached tread, the other tires, and the wheel on which the tire was mounted were all destroyed.

Because of the woman’s actions, evidence relevant to the lawsuit had been destroyed. As a result, the tire company moved to dismiss the complaint or to bar the woman from presenting evidence to rebut the company’s defense as a sanction for the woman’s conduct. A Georgia court denied the company’s motion and declined to sanction her for her conduct. A Georgia appeals court upheld the decision. The court agreed that it was not reasonably foreseeable for the woman at the time to have known litigation would occur. Thus, her duty to preserve evidence was not triggered, and she was not sanctioned.

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The details are important in personal injury lawsuits. A recent case demonstrated how a lawyer’s small misstep caused one family to be stuck with inconsistent jury awards. In Small v. Sayre, the state’s supreme court ruled that since the lawyer for the plaintiffs failed to raise a challenge to the damages awards before the trial court, the issue was waived on appeal.

Car AccidentThe family brought a claim against a driver after they were injured in a car accident. The husband was driving when he was rear-ended, and he, his wife, and his daughter were injured. They sued the other driver for their injuries, and the case proceeded to trial. After the trial, the jury found the other driver was negligent and awarded each person compensation for their injuries. The jury awarded the wife damages for past medical expenses and pain and suffering, but it did not award her any future economic or non-economic damages. The jury also awarded damages to the husband but awarded him damages for past pain and suffering without an award for any past economic damages or any future damages.

After the verdict, the family appealed the decision. They argued that the damages awards were inconsistent and that they were not supported by the evidence. However, the lawyer failed to challenge the potentially inconsistent verdicts in the trial court. The lawyer failed to make a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or ask for a new trial. Because of the misstep, the family’s arguments were waived on appeal. As a result, the Supreme Court affirmed the verdicts as the jury decided them.

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Hydroplaning occurs when a thin layer of water builds up between a car’s tires and the road. Since the tires lose contact with the road during a hydroplane, the car can skid, lose control, or crash. A car can become unpredictable when it begins to hydroplane, making it difficult for a driver to control the vehicle.

Wet RoadWet pavement contributes to almost 1.2 million crashes each year. Some drivers fail to adequately account for bad weather by failing to properly maintain lights, failing to drive at a safe speed, or failing to leave a safe distance between cars.

Drivers can take precautions to prevent hydroplaning accidents by properly inflating their tires, replacing old tires, driving at a safe speed during bad weather, maintaining a safe distance, driving in a lower gear, and avoiding cruise control in bad weather. But even with all these precautions, the roads themselves can make conditions dangerous for drivers.

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