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In any type of Georgia civil case, such as a personal injury lawsuit, the parties are entitled to have their dispute heard by an “impartial” jury. Among other things, this means that none of the jurors are related to any of the parties to the case. In car accident lawsuits, this also includes any insurance companies that may be liable for a judgment.

Mordecai v. Cain

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently granted a plaintiff in a car accident case a new trial after determining the trial judge failed to properly screen the jury for potential bias. The underlying lawsuit arose from a car accident. The plaintiff alleged the defendant was “driving on the wrong side of the road” and collided with her vehicle, seriously injuring her. Because the defendant lacked sufficient insurance, the plaintiff served her uninsured motorist carrier, which “elected to try this case in the name of the individual defendant,” according to court records.

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In Georgia, a defendant in a personal injury case arising from a car accident may argue what is known as the “sudden emergency” defense. Put simply, this means the defendant alleges he or she was presented with a sudden emergency and had insufficient time to react. If this was the case, the sudden emergency relieves the defendant of any and all liability for any accident arising from the sudden emergency.

Woodard v. Dempsey

The key to this defense is that the defendant could not have reasonably foreseen the emergency—otherwise it is not really a “sudden” emergency. An ongoing federal lawsuit in Atlanta illustrates how factual disputes over whether a defendant has alleged an actual emergency may arise.

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Insurance policies frequently cover any damages incurred due to a car accident. But it is not unusual in Georgia for insurance companies to disclaim or otherwise reject coverage if the insured does not strictly comply with all terms of the policy. In some cases, insurance companies may end up fighting among themselves over who is liable for any damages arising from a personal injury claim.

Selective Insurance Company of America v. Russell

A federal judge in Gainesville recently addressed such a case. This is one of two lawsuits arising from a 2011 car accident. Two vehicles collided, resulting in the death of a passenger in one of the cars. The driver of Car A and the estate of the deceased passenger sued the driver of Car B in Georgia state court.

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A homeowner’s insurance policy typically covers the policyholder’s liability for personal injury claims that occur on the property. For example, if someone slips and falls in your home and subsequently sues you, your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay for any damages. But not every injury that occurs on a property is necessarily covered by a homeowner’s policy, which can leave a defendant on the hook for potentially millions in damages while making it more difficult for the injury victim to receive prompt compensation.

Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Herndon

One common homeowner’s insurance policy exclusion is for criminal acts. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of such an exclusion. This case has its roots in an extramarital affair. The defendant was a married man in an “intimate relationship” with another woman, who also assisted him with maintaining his rental properties.

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Medical malpractice is treated differently than most personal injury claims in Georgia. State law requires a malpractice plaintiff to submit an affidavit from a qualified expert who can attest that there is “at least one negligent act or omission claimed to exist and the factual basis for each such claim.” Without such an affidavit, a judge must dismiss the malpractice lawsuit.

To make things even more difficult for malpractice victims, Georgia law imposes specific qualifications on the experts who must submit the affidavits. The expert must have “actual professional knowledge and experience” in the same specialty as the defendant. This experience must include either “active practice” in the specialty “for at least three of the last five years” preceding the filing of the affidavit, or alternatively, teaching in that specialty for “at least three of the last five years as an employed member of the faculty” at a properly accredited educational institution.

Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia

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Although we charge police and fire departments with protecting lives and property, as a matter of law it is difficult to actually sue these agencies if they fail in their duties. Georgia law extends sovereign immunity to absolve state agencies of any liability arising from a “failure to provide, or the method of providing, law enforcement, police, or fire protection.” But there are cases in which a victim may sue the state for negligent application of existing police or fire protection policies, at least according to one recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Grant v. Georgia Forestry Commission

In March 2011 the Georgia Forestry Commission issued a burn permit to a landowner in Bulloch County. Such permits are required before anyone can burn “natural vegetation that is hand piled” such as leaf piles. Unfortunately in this case, the landowner’s fire burned out of control. A fire protection ranger employed by the Commission arrived at the scene to assume responsibility for managing the situation.

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In a personal injury lawsuit, such as a negligence claim arising from a car accident, the plaintiff must establish causation—that is, how the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. If a plaintiff fails to advance a plausible theory of causation, a Georgia court may dismiss the case at the summary judgment stage.

Elder v. Hayes

In a recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against a driver involved in a three-car accident that took place in Athens, Georgia, in 2010. The critical legal issue was the plaintiff’s theories of causation against the defendant driver. The Court of Appeals determined there was insufficient evidence for a jury to find the defendant was responsible for the defendants’ injuries.

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If you are driving and there is a sudden emergency—for example, an accident takes place in front of you and you instinctively swerve to avoid the collision—can you be held liable for your own actions? In many cases, the answer is no. Georgia law recognizes a “sudden emergency” defense. This applies when a person faces a “sudden peril” and, lacking adequate time to assess the situation, takes immediate action that may result in injury to another. Keep in mind, this defense is only available when the person asserting it did not actually cause the emergency.

Smith v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the application of the emergency defense doctrine to a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a series of accidents that took place on and around a railroad crossing located in Gwinnett County. A pickup truck was traveling southbound towards the crossing. The driver of the truck sped towards a yellow light. The light turned red as the truck entered the intersection. At this point, the truck collided with a van that was attempting to make a left-hand turn into the intersection.

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Many Georgia residents do not wish to receive extraordinary medical procedures in the event they are suffering from a terminal illness. Hospitals and health care providers are legally required to honor a patient’s wishes in this respect, especially when there is an Advance Directive making such intentions clear. If a hospital ignores such a directive, it may be liable for causing the patient unnecessary pain and suffering.

Doctors Hospital of Atlanta v. Alicea, Administratrix

The Georgia Supreme Court recently addressed the subject of when a hospital may escape liability for ignoring a terminal patient’s Advance Directive. The case is a pending lawsuit involving a 91-year-old woman who passed away in 2012. The plaintiff is the woman’s granddaughter, acting as the administratrix of her estate.

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Dealing with insurance companies is often the first legal issue that needs to be managed following a car accident. While many cases are amicably resolved with insurers without the need for litigation, accident victims always need to tread carefully lest they inadvertently sign away their legal rights. As a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates, when you propose to settle a case you must be prepared to live with the consequences.

Partain v. Pitts

The plaintiff and defendant in this case were drivers involved in a car accident. The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging the latter’s negligence caused the accident and the plaintiff’s resulting injuries. Four days after filing suit, the plaintiff’s attorney sent a settlement letter to the claims adjuster for the defendant’s car insurance carrier. The letter said the plaintiff would agree to sign a limited liability release in exchange for $50,000, which was the coverage limit of the defendant’s insurance policy. The letter further said the offer would only remain good for two weeks, and the plaintiff’s attorney had to receive a check by the deadline, otherwise the settlement offer was rescinded.