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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.

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Uninsured motorist coverage extends the protection of your own automobile insurance to accidents caused by another party who lacks sufficient insurance to compensate you for any injuries. For example, let’s say a drunk driver hits you. You subsequently sue the driver and win $1,000,000 in damages from the jury. But the driver only has $25,000 in insurance and lacks any other assets to pay the remainder of the judgment. In this situation you could seek compensation under your own policy’s uninsured motorist coverage.

Coker v. American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company

The above example seems relatively straightforward. But what happens when there are multiple insurers who may be liable for the same accident? A federal appeals court in Atlanta recently addressed such a case.

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Many Georgia car accidents involve motorists from other states. If you are injured by a nonresident driver’s negligence, you can still seek to recover damages through the Georgia courts. It is important to understand that there are special conditions imposed by Georgia law in such cases. You must make every effort to locate the out-of-state defendant and ensure he or she is properly served with a copy of your lawsuit. As a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates, these requirements are not optional.

Covault v. Harris

The plaintiff in this case was involved in a two-car accident in Fulton County, Georgia. The plaintiff and the defendant were traveling towards the same intersection when, according to the plaintiff, the defendant “failed to maintain his lane and struck [the plaintiff’s] vehicle.” According to a police report taken at the scene of the accident, the defendant was a resident of Kentucky driving a rental car. The plaintiff subsequently learned the defendant’s home address by reviewing Kentucky’s voter registration records.

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For many of us, our pets are considered members of the family. We would never assign our beloved dog or cat a monetary value. Unfortunately, when an animal is injured or killed due to the negligence of another party, the courts need some way to determine the damages owed to the owner.

Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak

The Georgia Supreme Court recently addressed this issue. The plaintiffs in this case placed their two dogs—a mixed-breed dachshund and a Labrador retriever—with an Atlanta kennel for 10 days. The retriever required regular doses of arthritis medication, which the plaintiffs provided to the kennel with appropriate instructions. But according to the plaintiffs, the kennel instead gave the drug to their dachshund, causing the dog to suffer renal failure. The plaintiffs said they spent upwards of $10,000 over a nine-month period before the dog ultimately died.

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Asbestos exposure has caused serious health problems for millions of American workers. Under Georgia products liability law, a manufacturer may be held responsible for exposing a person to asbestos-containing products. A federal appeals court recently considered how far such liability should extend.

Thurmon v. Georgia Pacific, LLC

This lawsuit involved a man who worked as a supervisor at a Georgia paper mill for over 30 years. The mill contained a number of industrial valves that frequently required maintenance. Although the supervisor did not perform such maintenance himself, he was on several occasions in close proximity to the valves while they were under repair.

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In May 2011, a bus traveling from Charlotte, North Carolina to New York City swerved off Interstate 85 approximately 30 miles north of Richmond, Virginia. The bus hit an embankment and overturned. Consequently, four passengers died and several dozen more were hospitalized with injuries.

The bus company was a discount operator with a long history of accidents due to unsafe driver behavior. According to news reports at the time, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cited the operator “for 17 unsafe-driving violations” in the two years prior to the fatal Virginia accident. The FMCSA shut down the operator immediately after the accident.

Chhetri v. United States