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A company may be held liable under Georgia law for any defects in the design or manufacture of its products. Similarly, a manufacturer may be responsible if it fails to properly label or warn consumers about the known risks of using a product. Defective design and failure-to-warn claims are distinct categories of product liability, and there are cases in which a manufacturer may be liable for one and not the other.

CertainTeed Corporation v. Fletcher

Along those lines, the Supreme Court of Georgia recently held that a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products could be tried on a defective design claim, while simultaneously rejecting a failure-to-warn claim made by the same plaintiff.

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In a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant may try to avoid responsibility by accusing the plaintiff of causing or contributing to his or her own injury. Georgia law refers to this as “contributory negligence.” The basic idea, according to a 2000 Georgia Court of Appeals decision, is that if a plaintiff’s own “failure to use ordinary care for his own safety is the sole proximate cause of his injuries,” then he cannot recover damages from a defendant, even if that defendant was negligent.

Miller v. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

More recently, the Court of Appeals considered the question of a plaintiff’s contributory negligence in a case in which he was unable to communicate his account of the underlying accident. This tragic case began in 2009, when the plaintiff, a man employed by an electrical subcontractor, was tasked with installing light fixtures in a building. This required re-routing certain wires through an electrical junction box on the building’s roof.

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In a premises liability case, Georgia law holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she had “equal or greater” knowledge of a hazard relative to the defendant. In other words, if you know there is a dangerous condition on someone else’s property and, in spite of that knowledge, you are injured, a judge may reject your personal injury lawsuit against the property owner.

Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how the question of a plaintiff’s “superior or equal” knowledge is dealt with in practice. The plaintiff was a tanker driver who delivered gasoline to a gas station owned and managed by the defendants. On the day in question, the plaintiff was making a delivery. The defendants required the plaintiff to manually measure the underground tank levels before and after each delivery. As the plaintiff later testified, he knew other drivers who had been “fired on the spot” for failing to follow this policy.

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In any kind of personal injury lawsuit, it is critical for the parties to the case to preserve any evidence that may be relevant to the litigation. If a party intentionally or negligently destroys relevant evidence, this is known as spoliation, and a judge may impose sanctions, up to and including dismissing the case (if the plaintiff is at fault) or issuing a default judgment against the defendant. However, a court must also consider all relevant facts and circumstances in deciding whether or not sanctions are necessary.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how not all spoliation is fatal to a plaintiff’s case. This decision involves an ongoing product liability claim arising from a fatal car accident. The victim was driving his vehicle on a Georgia interstate “when his left rear tire detached,” according to court records. The vehicle “swerved out of control,” hit a guardrail, overturned “several times,” and finally came to a stop in a ditch.

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Premises liability refers to a property owner’s responsibility for certain torts that occur within said property. A common example is a slip-and-fall accident. Let’s say you are shopping and slip on a puddle of water in the middle of the store, causing you to fall and injure yourself. The store owner may be liable if you can prove he or she was negligent in failing to notice and clean up the puddle.

How does premises liability work if the property is rented? In other words, if the store owner leases its space from another entity, such as a shopping center, is the landlord also liable for injuries to patrons? As a general rule, the answer is no. Georgia law expressly states that a landlord who has “fully parted with possession” of a property–i.e., leased it to a tenant–is not “responsible to third persons for damages” arising from the tenant’s negligence. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. First, a landlord can be held liable for “defective construction” of the leased building itself. Second, the landlord may be liable for “damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.”

Pajaro v. South Georgia Bank

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Most of us participate in some form of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. But because social media makes it so easy to keep in touch with friends, family members, and colleagues, we often forget that most of what we post to these sites become public record. There is no true privacy online, and even if you later delete an embarrassing (or incriminating) message, there is no guarantee it has not been stored somewhere else, waiting to be used against you at a later time.

One place an unfortunate social media post may work against you is a personal injury lawsuit. In a typical personal injury claim, the plaintiff seeks compensation for economic damages–i.e., medical costs and lost wages incurred as a result of the defendant’s negligence and noneconomic damages for things like “pain and suffering.” The defendant, in turn, will look for any evidence to minimize a potential damage award, and if possible to prove the plaintiff suffered no genuine injury to begin with.

Social media can offer a bonanza of exculpatory evidence to an aggressive defendant. For example, let’s say a plaintiff is in a car accident and sues the defendant for negligence. The plaintiff alleges that she suffered permanent injuries in the accident and is therefore unable to perform the same recreational activities that she could before the accident. If the defense subsequently finds a picture on the plaintiff’s Facebook page of her kayaking two weeks after the accident, that would obviously not be helpful to the plaintiff’s case.

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Expert testimony is often a critical component of a personal injury case. Judges and jurors are not technical experts and often require assistance in understanding evidence. When it comes to “simple negligence,” though, expert testimony is generally unnecessary. A jury does not need help when common sense is sufficient to weigh the evidence and reach a logical conclusion.

Gardner v. Clark

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed a tragic case in which a trial judge improperly demanded expert testimony where none was necessary. The plaintiffs in this case were the children of a woman who died in November 2009. The mother lived in a mobile home that she rented from the defendant.

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Is a bar owner responsible if a patron has too many drinks and subsequently gets into a car accident that injures an innocent third party? In some cases, the answer is “yes.” Like many states, Georgia has a dram shop law that applies to anyone who “sells, furnishes, or sells alcoholic beverages.”

An accident victim can sue the alcohol seller if three conditions are met. First, the seller must serve alcohol to a patron “who is in a state of noticeable intoxication.” Second, the seller must know that said patron “will soon be driving a motor vehicle.” Finally, this service of alcohol is the “proximate cause” of the victim’s injuries.

Barnes v. Smith

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Georgia’s product liability law allows a consumer injured by a dangerous or defective product to sue the manufacturer for damages. George employs a “strict liability” standard, which means the manufacturer is responsible even if there was no evidence that it was negligent. This strict liability rule only applies to actual manufacturers, however, and not companies that merely sell or distribute a product created by a third party.

Williams v. Pacific Cycle, Inc.

A company may be considered a “seller” even if it played some role in a defective product’s design or packaging, as a recent decision by a federal appeals court in Atlanta illustrates. The plaintiff in this case suffered a severe brain injury following a bicycle accident. He accused the defendant of manufacturing the defective bicycle helmet he was wearing at the time of the accident.

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There are stricter rules in Georgia for bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit versus other types of personal injury claims. Not surprisingly, hospitals often try to classify ordinary negligence cases as malpractice in order to make it more difficult for the plaintiff to pursue his or her claim.

Byrom v. Douglas Hospital, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently rejected just such an attempt. The plaintiff in this case had gone to a local hospital to undergo tests for a surgical procedure. A nurse transported the plaintiff, who normally walks with a cane, by wheelchair from the exam room to the waiting room.