Articles Posted in Accident Law

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Georgia roads pose a serious danger to pedestrians attempting to cross the street. This danger is compounded when it is dark outside or in conditions with low visibility. In a recently decided case, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff in a fatal auto-pedestrian accident case. As a result of the appellate ruling, the plaintiff will not have the chance to recover damages from the death of her spouse.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff sued the defendant after he struck and killed her husband in an early morning auto-pedestrian collision. Evidently, the decedent was hit while he was crossing a poorly lit road, over a mile from the nearest crosswalk. Using the testimony of an expert witness, the plaintiff argued in her complaint that the defendant, who was driving to work at the time of the crash, was negligent in failing to see the pedestrian, and therefore liable for damages related to his death. Before trial, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment with the court, arguing that there was no legal basis to find he was negligent. The defendant’s motion was denied by the court, which resulted in the recently decided appeal.

According to the Georgia Court of Appeals, a valid negligence claim must establish four elements: (1) a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct raised by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm; (2) a breach of this standard; (3) a legally attributable causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) loss or damage to plaintiff’s legally protected interest resulting from the breach. On appeal, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to meet the first element of a negligence claim.

Recently, a Georgia appeals court issued a ruling after a defendant appealed a trial court’s denial of his motion for summary judgment. The case stemmed from a car accident where the decedent was fatally injured while crossing the road in front of the defendant’s car.

According to the opinion, the defendant was on his way to work when the victim walked onto the highway. The defendant alleged that he heard a vibration and his car jerked, but he did not realize he hit anyone. The impact caused the defendant’s window to shatter. In an attempt to avoid another collision, he drove down the highway until he could park his car on the side of the road. When he returned to the accident scene, he realized that he injured the pedestrian. Tragically, the pedestrian suffered fatal injuries.

The pedestrian’s wife filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. She alleged that he was negligent in operating his car and did not exercise due care. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that he engaged in any negligent act or omission. The trial court denied his motion for summary judgment, resulting in this motion to the appeals court. In reviewing the case, the Georgia appeals court discussed state negligence standards in personal injury lawsuits.

In a recent case before the Supreme Court of Georgia, the court considered whether a plaintiff could recover for emotional distress without any proof of physical injury. According to the court’s opinion, one of the plaintiffs in the case was involved in a crash with the defendant. The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendant failed to stop at a stop sign and crashed into the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff and his wife sued the defendant alleging negligence and gross negligence. They sought compensation for permanent injuries, past and future pain and suffering, loss of earnings and diminished earning capacity, and loss of consortium and loss of services.

After a jury trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs for a total of $14,550,000, including $7 million for pain and suffering, and $4 million for future pain and suffering. The jury found the husband was 25% at fault, and thus the plaintiffs were awarded the reduced amount of $10,912,500. The defendant appealed the verdict, arguing that the trial court should have given the jury an instruction on the “impact rule.”

The impact rule states that a plaintiff can recover for emotional distress only if there is some impact resulting in physical injury to the plaintiff. Under Georgia law, there are three elements to the impact rule. First, the plaintiff must have suffered some type of physical impact. Second, the physical impact must cause physical injury to the plaintiff. Third, the physical injury must cause the plaintiff’s emotional distress or mental suffering.

In a recent Georgia car accident case before a state appellate court, the plaintiff filed claims arising out of a car accident that killed her husband and seriously injured her son. She filed a claim against the local Emergency Medical Services (EMS), alleging that they failed to properly treat her husband’s and son’s injuries. She also filed a claim against the local County Road Superintendent (Superintendent), alleging that he failed to inspect and maintain the road. Both defendants claimed they were entitled to immunity. The trial court agreed, dismissing the claims against them, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the court considered whether the defendants were protected by immunity.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was driving with his 12-year-old son in Atkinson County when he hit a hole in the road, and after he regained control of the truck, he hit a second hole and crashed into a tree. EMS responded to the scene and found the husband trapped on the driver’s side, and the son seated on the passenger side. The son allegedly told one emergency medical technician (EMT) to check on his father who was unconscious, but the EMT told him that they had to “get [him] out first.” The EMT told the son to jump off the truck, and when he said he could not jump, the EMT told him that jumping was the way he would get off. The son did so, and “had to walk” to the stretcher. However, the EMT who assisted the son testified that he picked up the son, laid him onto a stretcher, and carried him to the ambulance. The father was unconscious but breathing, and was removed from the truck, but stopped breathing while he was in the ambulance. EMS tried to resuscitate the husband, but he died of his injuries.

If a lawsuit is filed against a public entity or a public official, the public entity or official may be protected by official immunity. A public official is protected by official immunity if the official “has engaged in discretionary acts that are within the scope of his or her authority, and the official has not acted in a willful or wanton manner; with actual malice; or with the actual intent to cause injury.” In contrast, official immunity does not protect against ministerial acts that are performed negligently. Generally, ministerial acts are acts that are “simple, absolute, and definite,” and require “merely the execution of a specific duty.” In contrast, discretionary acts are acts that “call for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment,” and acting on one’s own conclusions “in a way not specifically directed.”

Georgia personal injury cases generally have to abide by a two-year statute of limitations. This means that plaintiffs have two years after a car crash or other personal injury incident to file a lawsuit in court. However, there are exceptions to that rule, as one recent Georgia case demonstrates. In that case, the plaintiff was able to file the claim beyond the two-year statute of limitations because of the issuance of a traffic citation as a result of the crash.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the crash occurred between two cars in Fayetteville, Georgia in 2014. The collision took place on October 16, and thus, the statute of limitations would normally have run on October 16, 2016.

The plaintiff filed her lawsuit on November 10, 2016, and the defendant argued that the case was filed after the statute of limitations and should be dismissed. However, the plaintiff contended that the statute of limitations was tolled because the defendant was issued a traffic citation due to the crash.

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