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Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents. This is why “texting while driving” is illegal in Georgia and many other states. State law expressly forbids anyone from operating a motor vehicle “while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.”

Maynard v. McGee and Snapchat, Inc.

When distracted driving does lead to a car accident, the driver may face a personal injury lawsuit from the victims. A lawsuit recently filed in Spalding County, Georgia, raises the novel question of whether a social media company may also be liable for encouraging distracted driving by its users. The lawsuit, which is still in its early stages, has already sparked international media attention.

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In Georgia, the family of a deceased person may file a wrongful death lawsuit if there is evidence that someone else’s negligent or criminal acts were the cause of death. A common example would be a person killed in a drunk driving accident. In such circumstances, the family of the victim might pursue a wrongful death claim against the drunk driver.

Mayor and City of Richmond Hill v. Maia

What about a case in which a negligent act leads the victim to commit suicide? Can the family still bring a wrongful death claim? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question.

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Employers are normally liable for the acts of their employees. In tort law this is known as vicarious liability. In Georgia, vicarious liability applies whenever an employee acts “by [the employer’s] command or in the prosecution and within the scope of [the employer’s] business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.” In other words, if you direct your employee to complete a particular task, and in doing so he injured another, the victim can sue you for damages.

Jefferson v. Houston Hospitals, Inc.

But what about a case where the employee ignores your instructions? A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates how employers may be able to get off the hook even in cases of egregious employee misconduct. The case arises from a 2014 incident that made national headlines. In April 2014, a former technician at a hospital in Perry, Georgia, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of reckless conduct and one count of felony computer forgery.

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Georgia law requires all drivers to carry auto insurance. The law sets certain minimum requirements for coverage. For example, a policy must include provide at least $25,000 in coverage for “bodily injury” to one person, or $50,000 to cover multiple persons injured in the same accident. Remember, these are only minimum requirements, and many drivers choose to purchase insurance policies with higher coverage limits.

State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. v. Marshall

But insurance does not cover an accident just because your car may be involved in some way. A recent Georgia case illustrates this point. The case actually began as a dispute over the ownership of a car. In 2010, a boyfriend purchased a car for his girlfriend. She had poor credit and needed him to register the car in his name so she could obtain a loan to finance the purchase. Although the girlfriend subsequently made the loan payments, the vehicle remained legally titled in the name of the boyfriend.

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If you are injured on someone else’s property, the owner may be liable for negligence. This is known in Georgia as “premises liability.” A common type of premises liability occurs when a customer slips and falls in a store due to a hazardous condition. If the store had “superior knowledge” of the hazard and the customer exercised “ordinary care” for his or her own safety, then a jury may find the store liable under premises liability.

Stephens v. Kmart Corporation

Premises liability cases tend to be highly fact-specific. Here is a recent example from here in Georgia. In this case, the plaintiff was shopping with her husband at a store in Tifton, Georgia. She was browsing through a series of clothing racks set up on the sidewalk in front of the store’s entrance. While attempting to move between the racks, the plaintiff’s “foot stepped off the curb, causing her to fall on the asphalt.” She sustained a serious injury to her back as a result.

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Personal injury claims are not always based on accidents or direct actions by a negligent party. In so-called toxic tort cases, for instance, a defendant may be held liable for a hazardous health condition that contributes to a victim’s injuries. In such cases, a plaintiff must establish causation through expert medical testimony.

McCarney v. PA Lex Glen, LLC

In one recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals reinstated a toxic tort claim against a landlord accused by a tenant of failing to properly treat a major mold infestation. According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, he rented an apartment from the defendant for about a year. Towards the end of his tenancy, the plaintiff learned from his neighbors there might be mold in their apartments. The plaintiff subsequently discovered a “black substance” covering several surfaces in and around his unit.

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Negligence exists under Georgia law whenever a person breaches a “legal duty to conform” to a specified legal standard, and as a result, another person suffers an injury or loss. In the context of a car accident, for example, a person may be negligent if he or she fails to follow the rules of the road, thereby causing an accident that injures another driver or damages their vehicle. Indeed, many personal injury cases come down to establishing which driver’s actions were responsible for the accident.

Newsome v. LinkAmerica Express, Inc.

In a recent case, a divided Georgia Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit arising from an accident where a car hit a parked tractor trailer. Both parties—the driver and the tractor trailer owner—claimed the other party’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. The trial court sided with the defendant, while a majority of the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff should at least be permitted to argue his case before a jury.

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Georgia law prohibits individuals from carrying “weapons” in any public school. There are exceptions for law enforcement who need to carry firearms in carrying out their official duties. But the Georgia legislature has made it clear that schools are supposed to be “gun free zones.”

Boatright v. Copeland

There was an interesting personal injury lawsuit recently before the Georgia Court of Appeals. The plaintiff was “assisting in loading and firing a cannon owned by the Appling County School District.” The cannon was used outdoors during Appling County High School’s football games. The plaintiff was compressing gunpowder in the cannon with a rod when the cannon suddenly discharged, causing permanent injury to the plaintiff’s right hand. The plaintiff subsequently sued the school district, as well as the superintendent of schools and individual school board members.

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In a Georgia car accident case, a negligent driver may be liable for punitive damages if there is “clear and convincing evidence” of “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” For example, if the negligent driver was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident, that would provide evidence of “willful misconduct” justifying a punitive damages award.

Dagne v. Schroeder

However, drunk driving is not the only thing that might lead a jury to award punitive damages. A recent Georgia case helps illustrate this point. This plaintiffs in this case were a mother and daughter who were driving home. The defendant was driving in the opposite direction on the same road. Witnesses observed the defendant “swerved within her lane and continuously sped up and slowed down.” At one point she swerved directly into the path of the plaintiffs’ vehicle. The mother tried to avoid the collision but failed. The vehicles collided, sending the plaintiff’s van into the air where it “tumbled several times after hitting the ground before finally coming to a rest upside down.”

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Litigation is not uncommon following an auto accident. In many cases, the parties can still settle their dispute without the need for a full-blown jury trial. But before agreeing to any settlement, it is essential each party understands what rights they may be giving up. A settlement is a contract, which means there must be a “meeting of the minds” in order for the agreement to be enforceable.

Cone v. Dickenson

Recently the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed a dispute arising from just such a settlement agreement. The plaintiff and the defendant were in a car accident. The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging his negligence caused the accident.