Articles Posted in Accident Law

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seat beltUnder 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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georgia lawIn 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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road constructionIn 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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vehicle injuryRecently, 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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car accidentRecently, 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.

Legal News GavelThe 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.

Legal News GavelA 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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case involving a plaintiff’s claims against two insurance companies. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff did not properly notify either of the insurance companies about the accident until after the deadline set forth in the policies had expired. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims against the insurance companies were barred.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was working as a truck driver when he was rear ended by another driver while waiting at a red light. The force from the collision pushed the plaintiff’s truck into the rear of another vehicle, causing the plaintiff to sustain a serious injury to his neck. The accident occurred in December 2013.

In March 2015, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who rear-ended him. However, at some point thereafter, the plaintiff realized that the at-fault driver may be uninsured or may not have enough insurance to cover his injuries, so the plaintiff named his own insurance carrier as a defendant in April 2015. At this time, the plaintiff also named his employer’s insurance carrier as a defendant.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case requiring the court to determine if the defendant, a local utility company, was entitled to government immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the utility was not entitled to immunity because the employee alleged to have caused the accident was not exercising his discretion as a government employee.

The Facts of the Case

Legal News GavelThe plaintiff was injured in a car accident when she crashed into a pile of dirt and then into a back-hoe that the defendant utility company was using to replace a pipe underneath the road’s surface. According to the facts as laid out in the court’s opinion, the utility employee had removed the dirt covering the pipe and placed it in a large pile in front of the back-hoe. When the back-hoe was not in use, it was left on the shoulder of the road, partially in the roadway.

The plaintiff testified that she saw a “blur” and was unable to avoid the pile of dirt that was immediately ahead of her. After her car ran into the dirt pile, it then continued to crash into the back-hoe. The plaintiff’s car flipped over onto its side, and the plaintiff was injured as a result.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case involving an insurance dispute between an injured motorist and his insurance company. The case required the court to determine if the accident was covered under the driver’s policy or whether it was subject to an exception for vehicles being operated for hire. Ultimately, the court concluded that the insurance company failed to establish that the plaintiff was operating his vehicle for hire, and it found in favor of the plaintiff.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a motorist who had occasionally provided an elderly woman with rides from her home into town. The normal arrangement was the plaintiff would pick the woman up at her house and take her to town, and in exchange she would pay him $7.

One day, the plaintiff was driving near the woman’s home when he saw her walking along the roadside. He pulled over and offered to give her a ride into town. The woman accepted, and although she had intended to pay him for the ride, she never did because the plaintiff was involved in a minor accident along the way.

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