Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was brought by a college student who slipped and fell while walking from one class to another on a rainy day. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff presented enough evidence to survive the defendant’s summary judgment challenge, allowing her case to be submitted to a jury.

Rainy DayThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a student at Georgia Perimeter College. At the time she arrived at school, it was a nice day with clear weather. The plaintiff attended her first class, which was in a windowless classroom. After her first class ended, she went to her second class, which was in the same building and was also in a windowless classroom. Her second class ended at 11:15. During this time, the weather changed, and a rainstorm rolled in.

While the plaintiff was on the way to her third class, she slipped and fell in a puddle of water. The size of the puddle was contested, with the plaintiff claiming it consisted of “standing water,” and a professor who came to her aid estimating that there was less water present, about as much as if a wet paper towel had been wiped across the floor. The area where the plaintiff slipped was not near a door, and the water had been tracked in by fellow students.

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The are many types of motor vehicle accidents, as well as many different causes. After an accident occurs, if the parties cannot come to an agreement on who is responsible, it is left up to a jury to determine who was at fault in causing the accident, who is entitled to receive compensation for their injuries, and how much each party should receive. While some accidents do not present much difficulty to the courts in determining who was at fault, at other times, the process can be quite complex. This is especially the case when there are multiple vehicles involved, or when the fault is shared among all parties.

School BusIn situations in which each motorist may be partially at fault for the accident, Georgia courts use the rule of “modified comparative fault” to determine who is entitled to recover and which damages they should receive. Under the doctrine, any party who is less than 50% at fault for the accident can seek compensation from the other parties involved. However, if they are successful, their damages award will be reduced by their own percentage of fault.

For example, if a motorist is involved in an accident with another driver and is determined to have incurred $500,000 in damages, but he is also determined to be 10% at fault for the accident, he will receive $450,000 instead of the total $500,000.

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In a recent case, a Georgia appeals court determined a gas company was not responsible for a home explosion after the company’s employee left a warning card about a leak for the homeowner, and the homeowner disregarded the instructions on the note, causing an explosion. In November 2010, an explosion occurred in a detached apartment on the homeowner’s property. The owner had turned off the natural gas to the apartment and to his house because no one was living in the apartment and because he was not using it in the house. The owner then rented the apartment to a co-worker and asked the natural gas company to turn the gas back on.

ExplosionAn employee from the gas company came over, unlocked the meter, and turned the gas on. When he did so, he saw that the meter showed there was a leak in the fuel line or an open line, so he turned the gas back off. He did not lock the meter. He did not know at the time there was an apartment behind the house. He left a warning card at the house that explained the meter could not be turned on until a leak had been fixed. The employee noted on the card that the meter was off but was unlocked for a plumber.

The owner’s stepson’s girlfriend was home at the time and signed the warning card. The employee also said he left a card on the meter, although the owner said he did not see a card when he returned home. The owner explained that he saw the warning card but did not understand that he had a leak. The owner then asked a friend, who had done odd jobs for him in the past, to come turn his gas on. A couple of days later, the coworker moved into the apartment along with a friend. He ignited a lighter to light an incense, and there was an explosion that set the apartment on fire. The coworker and his friend were hospitalized for burns.

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The parents of a seventh grader filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a teacher after their child died under her care. The parents alleged that the teacher, who left her classroom unsupervised in violation of a school policy, caused the death of their child. In a recent opinion, a Georgia appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, finding the teacher was entitled to official immunity. The teacher was working at Benjamin E. Mays High School, a public school in Atlanta. The child was a seventh-grade student in the teacher’s classroom, which shared a bi-fold wall with another classroom.

ClassroomAccording to the allegations, one afternoon, the teacher left the classroom. While the teacher was gone, the child and another student engaged in horseplay. The child fell, and the other student landed on top of him. The teacher returned about 15 minutes later and then left again. The child then collapsed and became unconscious. The teacher returned about 15 minutes later and called 911. The child was pronounced dead at the hospital. The autopsy revealed that he died from blood loss, resulting from the dislocation of his collarbone.

Purportedly, the teacher originally was not truthful when asked about the incident, telling the principal she was in the classroom the entire time. Soon afterward, it was revealed that the teacher had left the classroom. It was unclear why the teacher left the classroom. In her deposition, the teacher said that she had asked the teacher in the adjoining room to listen for her class when she left the first time, but not when she left the second time. The school had a policy that stated that students were never to be left in the classroom unsupervised.

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In a recent case, after a 19-year-old was injured while riding a horse at a summer camp, he brought a lawsuit against the individual who provided the horses. The boy had been riding the horse at the camp where he worked as a camp counselor in the equine activities program. He had been out on a trail ride with the horse when the horse jumped over a small stream. The boy lost his balance and fell off the horse, and the horse landed on top of him. The defendant had contracted with the summer camp to provide the horses.

HorseThe boy sued, alleging negligence and willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons riding the horse. The defendant moved for summary judgment, based on the immunity granted by Georgia’s Equine Act. The Equine Act limits the liability of those involved in equine activities but provides for some exceptions. The boy argued that two exceptions applied in his case.

First, he claimed the defendant was liable because he provided an animal but failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the activity and to safely manage the animal. The court found that in this case, the defendant provided the horse to the camp, and the camp supervisor assigned the particular horse to the boy. Thus, since the defendant did not assign the horse to the boy himself, the exception did not apply. Another exception exists when a person willfully or wantonly disregards the safety of the participant. Here, this horse had been provided to the camp for two previous summers, and there was no evidence of previous incidents with this horse. As a result, the second exception also did not apply. The court noted that the boy’s injuries resulted from the inherent risks of equine activities, which is the type of injury the Act was meant to protect. Accordingly, the boy could not recover from the defendant under the Act.

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The details are important in personal injury lawsuits. A recent case demonstrated how a lawyer’s small misstep caused one family to be stuck with inconsistent jury awards. In Small v. Sayre, the state’s supreme court ruled that since the lawyer for the plaintiffs failed to raise a challenge to the damages awards before the trial court, the issue was waived on appeal.

Car AccidentThe family brought a claim against a driver after they were injured in a car accident. The husband was driving when he was rear-ended, and he, his wife, and his daughter were injured. They sued the other driver for their injuries, and the case proceeded to trial. After the trial, the jury found the other driver was negligent and awarded each person compensation for their injuries. The jury awarded the wife damages for past medical expenses and pain and suffering, but it did not award her any future economic or non-economic damages. The jury also awarded damages to the husband but awarded him damages for past pain and suffering without an award for any past economic damages or any future damages.

After the verdict, the family appealed the decision. They argued that the damages awards were inconsistent and that they were not supported by the evidence. However, the lawyer failed to challenge the potentially inconsistent verdicts in the trial court. The lawyer failed to make a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or ask for a new trial. Because of the misstep, the family’s arguments were waived on appeal. As a result, the Supreme Court affirmed the verdicts as the jury decided them.

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In a recent case, a Georgia appeals court reversed a decision in favor of a mobile home owner after a tenant was killed in a fire in her mobile home. The tenant, who was an elderly woman, had recently entered into a lease and moved into a mobile home. Some of the woman’s family members had started a fire in her fireplace, which then caught on fire. The mobile home was engulfed in flames, and the woman died in the fire. The woman’s family brought a lawsuit against the mobile home owner for wrongful death, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and punitive damages.

Mobile HomeAt trial, the owner of the mobile home agreed the woman had died as a result of the fire. He also stated that it was his responsibility to check mobile homes to make sure they were compliant with housing codes, and tenants relied on him to do so. He also agreed it was important to have smoke detectors in homes.

An arson expert also testified that he investigated the fire and did not find evidence of a smoke detector in the woman’s home or a hearth, which is a safety barrier for fires. The expert also testified that he read the woman’s autopsy report and found she had died as a result of the fire. He also explained that based on the location where the woman was found, it appeared she had been trying to escape.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion discussing the authentication requirement embodied in OCGA § 24-9-901(a). The rule requires that a party seeking to admit a piece of evidence provide sufficient evidence “to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.” In the case of Hungry Wolf v. Langdeau, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court admitted evidence that was not properly authenticated and remanded the case so that the trial judge could determine whether a sufficient basis existed to authenticate the evidence.

DocumentsThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured outside the defendant’s bar when he was hit by a ricocheting bullet. According to a summary of the facts, the man who fired the weapon, Colbert, was working at the bar on the night in question. The plaintiffs claimed that Colbert was a bouncer, but the defendant claimed that he was working as a cook and DJ on the night in question. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the bar owner under the theory of respondeat superior. The plaintiff argued that the bar owner should be responsible for the negligent actions of Colbert because the conduct at issue was within the scope of Colbert’s employment.

The bar owner filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that Colbert was not an employee who was engaged in any security work and that Colbert was actually hired and trained by the people performing that night at the bar.

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Georgia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that will pave the way for a jury trial over a man who was tased to death by DeKalb County police officers.   The appeal to the Supreme Court was triggered by a ruling by DeKalb County State Court Judge Wayne Purdom, who denied the police officers’ motion for summary judgment based on claims of immunity. Continue reading