Articles Posted in Accident Law

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The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion concerning a car accident case in which the plaintiff claimed he was injured after a controlled burn was negligently executed. The plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against a corporation after a truck in which he was riding as a passenger collided with a fallen power cable in the road.

The plaintiff alleged that the corporation, which operated a quail hunting reserve, was negligent in conducting the controlled burn on its property. The corporation conducted controlled burns each spring to prevent hazards and improve quail habitats.

Evidently, shortly after the defendant initiated a controlled burn, an employee came across a burning area near a power pole. The employee believed that the fire had spread from the controlled burn area and extinguished it. The next morning, the plaintiff, a passenger in a truck, came across a wire hanging across the road. The wire caught the back of the truck and caused the driver to lose control, resulting in an accident.

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In a recent Georgia personal injury case before the state’s appeals court, the plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident as a man was fleeing from the police. The plaintiff subsequently filed a claim against the Georgia Department of Public Safety (the State), and the State moved to dismiss the complaint because it claimed the plaintiff failed to serve the State with a proper ante litem notice within one year of the crash.

The plaintiff claimed that the statute of limitations should have been tolled while the criminal case against the man who was fleeing from the police was pending. The State argued that the statute of limitations should not be tolled in this case, because the mandate under OCGA § 50-21-26 (a) is a notice requirement rather than a statute of limitations.

The Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations refers to the time during which a legal action must be filed. The applicable statute of limitations varies depending on the type of the claim and where it is filed. If a case is filed after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, the case will likely be dismissed, and a plaintiff will be precluded from recovering for their injuries.

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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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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 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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Georgia car accident case involving a dispute between the plaintiff and an insurance company. The question the court was tasked with answering was whether the plaintiff adequately complied with the requirements of the insurance policy, such that the insurance company was obliged to cover her accident claim.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident in August 2015. A week or two after the accident, the plaintiff sought medical care for her injuries. However, the plaintiff continued to suffer significantly, which prevented her from working. The plaintiff soon afterward filed a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver; however, notice of the lawsuit was not provided to the insurance company until April 2016.

At the time of the accident, the vehicle the plaintiff was driving was owned and insured by her ex-husband. That insurance policy contained language that, in order to obtain coverage, a claimant needed to notify the insurance company immediately of any accident. The insurance company sought dismissal of the case against it on the basis that the plaintiff failed to provide immediate notice after the accident.

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All Georgia motorists are required to maintain a certain level of auto insurance in order to legally drive. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that anyone who causes a Georgia car accident is able to cover at least some of the the costs of medical and other expenses expenses for the accident victims. However, determining whether a person, vehicle, or accident is covered under an insurance policy is not always as straightforward as policyholders believe.A recent case brought this difficulty to light after a plaintiff who was injured in an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage sought coverage for his medical expenses. Ultimately, the court’s opinion held that, although the accident victim’s uninsured motorist (UIM) policy was not implicated in the accident, the carriage driver’s policy may cover the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while a passenger on a horse-drawn carriage. At the time, the carriage had just finished participating in a Christmas parade. The driver of the carriage maintained a liability policy with the defendant insurance company. The plaintiff also maintained an unrelated policy with the defendant insurance company. The plaintiff’s policy contained an uninsured motorist provision covering the plaintiff in the event that an at-fault driver was uninsured.

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