Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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.

Recently, an appeals court issued an opinion addressing governmental immunity in Georgia personal injury lawsuits. The lawsuit stems from the tragic death of a five-year-old boy who died after being struck and killed when exiting a school bus.

According to the opinion, the bus driver stopped the bus near the child’s home, and then activated the vehicle’s flashing lights, stop sign, and crossing gate. The child was previously instructed to look back at the bus driver before crossing the double-yellow line. However, the boy stepped off the bus, saw his mother, and started to cross the road without looking back. As the boy stepped off the bus, the bus driver saw an oncoming truck, at which point she honked the horn and waved to the child. Unfortunately, it was too late and the boy was struck and killed by the oncoming vehicle.

The family filed a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit against the bus driver, claiming that she was negligent in allowing the child off the bus without assuring that there was no traffic. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the bus driver based on governmental immunity. The plaintiffs argued that governmental immunity should not bar their case because the driver had a duty to keep students on the bus until all of the traffic stopped. The plaintiffs claimed that this duty was “ministerial” and “absolute”; therefore, governmental immunity should not apply.

Last month, a Georgia truck accident resulted in a University of Georgia student losing his life. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the collision occurred in the evening hours on Interstate 20, when an eastbound trucker lost control of his rig. Evidently, the truck flipped over onto its side before colliding with two vehicles and then a barrier wall. After the truck smashed into the wall, debris was thrown across the highway.

Apparently, the student was traveling in the westbound lanes on I-20 when debris from the truck struck his vehicle. The student died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. Police arrested the truck’s driver, charging him with several serious crimes, including second-degree homicide by vehicle.

Georgia Wrongful Death Cases Following Fatal Truck Accidents

In Georgia, family members who have lost a loved one due to another motorist’s negligence can pursue a claim for compensation through a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit. Under Georgia law, a wrongful death claim can be brought by a surviving spouse, child or, if the accident victim as a minor, a parent.

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In a recent case, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided that a wrongful death lawsuit can be limited by a previous personal injury settlement. The case is an important decision for Georgia personal injury and wrongful death plaintiffs.

The Facts of the Case

A woman was in a car accident that left her in a permanent coma. Her husband filed a personal injury lawsuit on her behalf against Toyota, alleging that her Toyota vehicle had a defective seatbelt latch and door-locking mechanism. The case went to trial, but before the jury returned a verdict, the plaintiff and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement.

The agreement provided that if the jury found in favor of Toyota, the plaintiff would still recover a certain amount of money. However, if the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Toyota would only be liable up to a certain amount of money. Thus, the agreement guaranteed the plaintiff a recovery, but a limited one.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability lawsuit filed by the surviving spouse of a man who was killed in a farm accident. The case required the court to determine whether the defendant farm owner could be held liable for the death of the plaintiff’s husband. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s husband assumed the risks involved with the work he was doing at the time he died, and therefore his wife was not entitled to pursue a claim against the farm owner.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s husband was a long-time employee of the defendant farm owner. The defendant and his son trained the plaintiff’s husband on the various tasks that he was to perform around the farm, and they made all necessary tools available for use.

One day, the defendant asked the plaintiff’s husband to remove two large tires from a tractor. The defendant told the plaintiff, however, not to remove the wheels by himself and to get assistance from someone else around the farm. Later that day, the defendant’s father-in-law was playing with his granddaughter when he saw the plaintiff’s husband removing the wheels of the tractor by himself. One of the wheels was easily removed without incident, but the plaintiff’s husband was having difficulty removing the second wheel.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a Georgia premises liability case involving the tragic drowning death of a young child at a condominium swimming pool. The case required the court to determine the condo association was liable for the child’s death. Finding that the association was not negligent in any way, the court dismissed the case against the association.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case was the father of a young boy who drowned in a swimming pool that was located at the condominium complex where his aunt lived. At the time of the accident, the aunt was not present, but the boy was with several other family members. According to the evidence presented at trial, the pool was very crowded on the day of the accident, and the young boy was under water for approximately five minutes before he was discovered. There was also some evidence suggesting that the person who called 911 was unable to promptly give the address of the condo complex, potentially delaying the arrival of emergency responders.

After his son’s death, the boy’s father filed a personal injury lawsuit against the condo association, claiming that the association was negligent for failing to have a lifeguard present, failing to have a safety rope distinguishing the shallow part of the pool from the deep part of the pool, and failing to post a sign with the pool’s address.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a college student who drowned while on a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. The case required the court to decide if the defendant university could be held liable for the student’s death. Ultimately, the court concluded that the university could not be held legally responsible for the student’s death because he assumed the risk of danger by entering the water.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a 20-year-old student at a local Atlanta-area university. The student signed up for a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica. Prior to embarking on the trip, university staff went over a few of the dangers of swimming in the ocean, and they asked if all of the students were comfortable swimmers. All of the students indicated that they could swim.

During the trip, a professor accompanied several students to a beach recommended by hotel staff. The students went into the water and stuck together in a group. However, at some point, a rip current began pulling the students out to sea. The plaintiff’s son was trying to stay afloat when he was overcome by a wave. The others lost sight of him, and his body was discovered three days later.

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In a recent case, a Georgia court of appeals upheld a jury award against a doctor after a patient underwent a procedure to relieve back pain. The woman alleged that she suffered catastrophic brain damage from oxygen deprivation after she had a procedure done to relieve her back pain. While her lawsuit was still pending, the woman died, and her husband then amended the lawsuit to add a wrongful death claim.According to the allegations, the woman experienced chronic back pain and began being treated by an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist in 2008. The doctor gave her two epidural steroid injections during two separate visits at that time. When the woman went to receive a third injection, the procedure did not go according to plan. The doctor was running late, and the woman ended up waiting about 50 minutes in the operating room after she had begun receiving a pain reliever and propofol, a medication that decreases consciousness and memory.

The doctor began the procedure about 10 minutes after he arrived, and the oxygen monitor signaled that the woman’s oxygen level had dropped below 90 percent. The doctor told the nurse to increase the woman’s oxygen flow, and he concluded she was still breathing. The surgical tech was concerned the woman was not breathing and asked the doctor several times if she could turn the oxygen level up higher, but he told her not to do that. The doctor continued the procedure and maintained that the woman was still breathing despite poor oxygen readings. The doctor finished the procedure and then gave the woman sedation reversal drugs and increased her oxygen flow.

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In a recent case, a woman sued a tire manufacturer after her husband died in a tragic car accident. She alleged that the company was liable based on negligent design and manufacturing, strict liability, and failure to warn, arising from the tire’s tread separation. The parties exchanged discovery, and during that period, the company learned the woman had kept only the “carcass” of the tire from the accident. The issue arose whether the woman should have retained the entire vehicle, and if so, whether she should face any court sanctions for destroying the vehicle.Apparently, after the accident had occurred, a service came to transport the wrecked car. The owner of the service later told the woman she was incurring a daily storage fee to keep the car there. The company’s owner offered to sell the car to a salvage yard in exchange for waiving the fee. The car had been totaled, so the woman did not see any reason to keep the car and agreed to allow the owner to sell the car. At the time, the woman’s husband was still alive in critical condition and had told the woman the tire had blown up and caused the accident. Thus, thinking the tire may be a necessary piece of evidence, the woman told the owner to keep the left rear tire. Although the tire itself was saved, the remnants of the detached tread, the other tires, and the wheel on which the tire was mounted were all destroyed.

Because of the woman’s actions, evidence relevant to the lawsuit had been destroyed. As a result, the tire company moved to dismiss the complaint or to bar the woman from presenting evidence to rebut the company’s defense as a sanction for the woman’s conduct. A Georgia court denied the company’s motion and declined to sanction her for her conduct. A Georgia appeals court upheld the decision. The court agreed that it was not reasonably foreseeable for the woman at the time to have known litigation would occur. Thus, her duty to preserve evidence was not triggered, and she was not sanctioned.

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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.At 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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