Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Collisions

Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a decision discussing whether a trial court could exclude an expert witness because they were identified after the discovery deadline. The issue on appeal arose after the plaintiff, a world-renowned high jumper, suffered serious injuries in a car accident. After the defendant admitted fault, the plaintiff filed a Georgia personal injury lawsuit requesting damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other relief the trial court found appropriate. During pretrial proceedings, the trial court set May 12th as the scheduling, discovery, and case management deadline.

In response to the complaint, the defendant asked the plaintiff to identify any expert witnesses that could attest to the plaintiff’s loss of future earnings. On the last day for identifying witnesses, the plaintiff supplemented his discovery response and presented an additional expert witness. About one month after the scheduling deadline, the defendant notified the plaintiff that he planned to call a rebuttal witness. The trial court excluded the defendant’s witness because he was not named by the May 12th deadline. On appeal, the defendant argued that he did not learn of the witness until the last day of the discovery deadline, and therefore his rebuttal witness should not be excluded.

In Georgia civil cases, the court generally cannot exclude an expert witness solely because they were identified after the court’s deadlines. Trial courts should consider various factors to determine whether expert witness exclusion is appropriate. The main factors include, the reason for the failure to timely disclose the witness, the importance of the expert’s testimony, the prejudice to the opposing party if the witness is allowed to testify, and whether there is an alternative remedy than the exclusion of the witness.

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.

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 negligence claims involving loss of life can become more complicated than accident lawsuits with only injuries. When a victim of negligence dies as a result of a car accident or other mistake, there may be separate lawsuits filed on behalf of multiple parties who could be entitled to compensation from the negligent party. The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently released a decision that addressed a dispute between the heirs to an accident victims estate and the beneficiaries of his wrongful death claim. As a result of the recent decision, the case will be remanded to a lower court for further proceedings.

The recently decided case involved claims which were initiated as a result of a man being killed in a Georgia motorcycle accident. The man was killed when he swerved to avoid a trash receptacle that a jury found was negligently left in the road by the defendant at trial. As a result of a settlement agreement made before trial, at trial, the plaintiffs accepted a judgment amount of $1,000,000, which was less than the $4,000,000 that the jury awarded. The settlement was to be divided between two separate claims against the defendant, the “wrongful death claim,” and the “estate claim.”

Because the decedent had executed a will that excluded his children before he died, any proceeds of the estate claim would be given exclusively to his surviving spouse. However, under the wrongful death claim, his four children would be entitled to some of the settlement proceeds. The settlement agreement itself did not state what portion of the $1,000,000 awarded would go to each claim, although the trial court entered a ruling that applied the entire settlement amount to the estate claim, therefore excluding the man’s children from any of the settlement proceeds. The children then filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia, seeking a ruling that they were entitled to some of the settlement.

Not all injuries caused by Georgia car accidents are covered by the injury victim’s automobile insurance policy. However, other insurance policies may offer coverage to people injured by a motor vehicle in certain circumstances. The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently ruled that a property owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy could be responsible for injuries caused to a woman who was injured in the owner’s driveway when she was run over by the homeowner’s truck.

The plaintiff was injured while she was looking at her friend’s truck in his driveway. She claimed to have inadvertently released the emergency brake while the vehicle was in neutral and was subsequently run over by the car, suffering substantial injuries. The woman pursued a personal injury lawsuit against the owner of the truck, as well as the insurance company who provided his homeowner’s coverage, seeking damages to compensate her for the injuries she sustained from being run over.

Before trial, the defendant insurance company pursued a ruling from the court to determine that they could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because of specific exclusions relating to motor vehicles in the homeowner’s insurance coverage at issue. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, finding that because the injuries arose out of the “use” of a motor vehicle, that the policy exclusion applied and the plaintiff could not pursue a claim against the insurance company.

Interstate highways and other high-speed roads can be especially dangerous to drivers and their passengers during times of increased traffic. According to a local news report, a Georgia car accident on an Interstate in the Atlanta metro area sent several people to the hospital with significant injuries. It also shut down traffic on the interstate for several hours. The news source reported that the major accident occurred on a Saturday night in September on I-20 near I-285, and although the exact cause of the crash is unknown, at least 15 people were sent to the hospital as a result of the crash.

Multi-vehicle accidents often have multiple causes which can vary for each of the vehicles involved. On highways and interstates, speed is often a contributing factor in accidents that subsequently involve other vehicles, triggering a chain-reaction crash. Drivers and passengers can be injured by crashing into walls or center dividers, as well as impacts from the front of their vehicles, in addition to damage caused if they are hit by a vehicle from behind that was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident ahead. Drivers on high-speed roads have a duty of care to be mindful of their speed, in addition to the distance that they are following the car in front of them so that they can safely stop in time in the event of a crash up ahead.

Drivers who are traveling at an unsafe speed or following too closely and contribute to a multi-car accident can be held accountable for their negligence through a Georgia personal injury claim. However, not all drivers involved in a multi-car accident are at fault. A driver caught in the middle of a pileup may be injured by no fault of their own. Georgia drivers are required to carry liability insurance for damages that result from an accident that is fully or partially their fault, and a knowledgeable attorney can pursue claims against all drivers who contributed to an accident that injured their client, as well as the affiliated insurance companies.

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.

Plaintiffs pursuing a Georgia personal injury claim must establish four elements to prove their case: 1.) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff against an unreasonable risk of harm; 2.) the defendant’s breach of that duty; 3.) a legally attributable causal connection between the breach and the injury; and 4.) a loss or damage that resulted from the breach. A plaintiff normally has the burden to prove all of the elements, meaning that a plaintiff should provide sufficient evidence to allow a fact finder to reasonably conclude that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent by establishing each element.

The element of causation can be difficult to prove in some cases, particularly in cases involving multiple parties and defendants. The mere possibility the defendant caused the plaintiff’s loss is not sufficient to prove the element of causation. In addition, the plaintiff must prove not only that the defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s loss, but also that it was a proximate cause of the loss, which requires a showing that there is sufficient connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury.

Multi-party cases can also involve complicated issues of contributory and comparative negligence. Generally, if a plaintiff had a certain degree of fault in causing the crash, the plaintiff cannot recover for his or her injuries. However, normally if a plaintiff is found to be less than 50 percent at fault, the plaintiff can still recover some compensation, although their damages award will be reduced by their percentage of fault.

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.

Continue reading ›