Articles Posted in Accident Law

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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.”

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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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Parties in a personal injury case have to take great care in maintaining evidence that may be relevant to the case, even if litigation has not yet begun. In one recent case before Georgia’s Supreme Court, the Court considered whether the defendant was properly sanctioned for failing to preserve evidence. The case may not seem as though it pertains to Georgia personal injury cases, however, the court’s decision applies equally to personal injury cases in which one of the parties is alleged to have destroyed, altered, or failed to preserve necessary evidence.

The Facts of the Case

A woman took photos of what she claimed was a bug in her food while she was eating at a work cafeteria. She emailed photos to the building superintendent, and also sent the photos to Walgreens to be printed before delivering them to her superintendent the following day. The food vendor was removed from the list of qualified vendors and later filed a claim as a result of the incident. Almost ten years later, the vendor became aware that there were printed photos in addition to the emailed photos. The superintendent did not provide the photos to the food vendor and admitted that he lost the printed photos at some point. The digital versions were still available, and the superintendent and the employee testified that the photos were identical, although the defendants disputed that fact.

The plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence due to the defendant’s failure to preserve the printed photos. The trial court found that the superintendent had been aware of the claim but still failed to preserve the printed photos or provide them to his employer’s lawyers. As a result, the trial court imposed a sanction for failing to preserve the printed photos. It decided it would provide a jury instruction stating that “spoliation of evidence creates a rebuttable presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to the spoliator.”

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Although many people can safely drive a car year after year without an issue, driving a car is actually a complex activity that requires a significant amount of coordination, judgment, and skill. Like other technical skills, driving is something that takes practice to master. Thus, young and inexperienced drivers are those most likely to cause Georgia car accidents. Indeed, according to government statistics, there are over 180 fatal Georgia car accidents involving motorists aged under 21 years of age. Of course, this does not consider the number of accidents caused by inexperienced drivers as well as those resulting only in injury.

Regardless of a driver’s experience, they owe the motorists with whom they share the road a duty of care to safely operate their vehicle and to follow all posted traffic signs and traffic laws. When a youthful or inexperienced driver causes an accident, they may be held liable for any injuries that are caused as a result.

One issue that may arise in a Georgia car accident involving a young driver is whether that driver’s parents can be held responsible. This is important because most young drivers have few assets with which to compensate an accident victim. However, under the family purpose doctrine, parents may be liable for a child’s negligence in some circumstances.

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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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