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Many Georgia car accidents are the result of a defect in the vehicle itself. Georgia product liability law recognizes three types of defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. The second group, design defects, includes any product that is not “reasonably suited to the use intended.” This means, for instance, that a product manufacturer may be held liable for damages if it selected an inappropriate or unsafe design.

Andrews v. Autoliv Japan, Ltd.

A design defect claim will only succeed if the plaintiff can prove the defendant actively participated in the design. Not every party who may have contributed some part of a vehicle is considered responsible for its design. A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta offers a helpful illustration.

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“Keep your eyes on the road,” is something every parent tells their teenager when teaching them how to drive. But paying attention to the road has become increasingly difficult in recent years with the advent of smartphone technology that makes it easy for people to text or chat with their friends while driving. “Distracted driving” is now considered a public safety problem on par with drunk driving.

More Than 3,000 Distracted Driving Deaths Every Year

The dangers of distracted driving are quite real. According to a recent New York Times article, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 272 teenagers were killed throughout the country in 2015 in “distraction-affected” car accidents. Overall, 3,263 out of 3,477 crash-related deaths in 2015–94%–involved distracted driving.

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Every year in the United States, natural gas explosions cause an average of 17 deaths, 68 injuries, and $133 million in property damage, according to a 2014 study published by the American Chemical Society. What is a gas company’s liability for personal injury claims brought by explosion victims? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question.

Westbrook v. Atlanta Gas Light Company

This case arose from a 2010 natural gas explosion in Atlanta. The plaintiffs were a man and woman injured in the explosion. The male plaintiff had rented a detached apartment on a residential property. Prior to the plaintiff moving in, the owner contacted the local gas company to turn the gas on in the apartment.

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Every day, millions of parents entrust the safety of their children to the cars they drive. If there is a defect in a vehicle’s manufacture or design, a parent may not learn about until it is too late and their child has paid the price. When that happens, parents understandably want to hold the vehicle manufacturer responsible.

Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a terrible and tragic case. In 2012, a woman was driving her 4-year-old nephew to an activity when her Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by another driver. Upon impact, the Jeep’s fuel tank exploded, setting the vehicle on fire. According to court records, the 4-year-old “was alive and conscious while the Grand Cherokee was on fire and may have lived up to a minute with flames in contact with his body” before he died.

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As a general rule, a driver is considered negligent, and therefore responsible for a car accident, if he or she disregards traffic signs. For example, if a driver speeds through a red light and hits another vehicle, he or she is liable for any damages sustained by the other driver. In some car accident cases, however, it may not be immediately apparent whether a driver was reckless in failing to obey traffic signs.

Richards v. Robinson

Here is an illustration from a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision. This case involves a two-car accident that occurred in Gwinnett County. The defendant was driving a school bus in the far-right eastbound lane of Five Forks Trickhum Road, which intersects the Ronald Reagan Parkway. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle on the eastbound land of Five Forks Trickhum Road.

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Negligent entrustment is an issue that frequently arises in car accident cases. The basic idea is that if the defendant “entrusts” his own vehicle to someone who subsequently injures a third party, the third party can seek damages against the defendant if he had “actual knowledge that the driver is incompetent or habitually reckless,” according to a 2010 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. So, for example, if you loan your car to someone you know has a history of drunk driving, and that person proceeds to get drunk and plow your car into a minivan, the passengers in the minivan can sue you under the theory of negligent entrustment.

Cullara v. Building & Earth Sciences, Inc.

The Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of negligent entrustment in another case where the defendant disputes whether it had actual knowledge of a driver’s recklessness.

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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.