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In personal injury law, you often come across the phrase “actual or constructive notice.” This refers to a property owner’s knowledge with respect to a given hazard. Actual notice means the owner knew the hazard existed. Constructive notice, on the other hand, means the owner “should have known” there was a hazard based on the exercise of reasonable care.

Lebron v. Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD

It is critical for a plaintiff in any personal injury case to establish the existence of either actual or constructive notice. Without such proof, a court will dismiss the plaintiff’s claims. At the same time, judges need to be careful to not dismiss a valid lawsuit based on an incorrect interpretation of the evidence.

Workers’ compensation requires Georgia employers to pay medical and wage replacement benefits to employees injured “in the course of” employment. This includes not only injuries that occur while actively working, but also during times “incidental” to a job, such as entering or exiting the employer’s premises. However, employers are not liable for injuries that occur when an employee is engaged in an “individual pursuit.”

Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation

In 2018, we discussed a decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation, where an employee was injured during a scheduled lunch break. To briefly recap, the employee was a claims adjuster at State Farm. The employer required her to take an unpaid 45-minute lunch break each day. On the day in question, the employee clocked out for lunch, went to the break room to prepare some food, and slipped and fell as she exited the room.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another person, your typical remedy is to file a personal injury lawsuit in state court. Depending on certain factors, the defense may have the right to transfer the case to federal court. This is known as “removal.”

Removal is permitted under federal law when two specific conditions are met: First, the “amount in controversy” must be more than $75,000; and second, there must be “complete diversity” between the parties. This means that if you are a Georgia resident, all of the defendants named in your lawsuit must be non-Georgia residents. If even one defendant is from the same state as you, you can have your lawsuit returned to state court.

Hickerson v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Georgia, LLC

If you are injured in an auto accident, you naturally assume that your insurance policy will help cover your damages. As with any contract, you need to carefully review and understand the terms of your policy. You may need to comply with a number of conditions before the insurer is legally obligated to provide you with coverage. Your failure to comply can–and will–be strictly held against you by the courts.

Geico General Insurance Company v. Breffle

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Geico General Insurance Company v. Breffle, provides a cautionary example. This case involves an insured driver (the plaintiff) who was injured in an April 2016 auto accident with another vehicle. The plaintiff sought medical treatment for his injuries a few days after the accident. In December 2016, about eight months after the accident, the plaintiff underwent a surgical procedure as part of his treatment. Later, in March 2017, the plaintiff’s doctors advised him that he would need a second surgery.

Have you ever participated in an activity in which the organizer asks you to sign a release or waiver? As you might imagine, such documents are designed to help minimize the organizer’s legal liability in the event you are injured. One way to do this is by restricting your ability to file a personal injury lawsuit; instead, the waiver or release may require you to submit to binding arbitration.

Atlanta Concorde Fire Soccer Association, Inc. v. Graham

How far can an arbitration agreement go? For instance, can the agreement bind third parties who did not actually sign the release? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case, albeit one that applied California law to the subject.

When an employee of a private business causes an auto accident, the victim can seek to hold the employer accountable under the legal principle of vicarious liability. What happens when the employee works for a local government? In that scenario, it is still possible to hold the public employer accountable, but there are a number of procedural hurdles that the victim must clear first.

Green v. Baldwin County Board of Commissioners

A May 5 decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Green v. Baldwin County Board of Commissioners, illustrates the difficulty such hurdles can pose. This case involves a June 2015 auto accident in Baldwin County. The plaintiff was stopped at an intersection when a police car driven by a sheriff’s deputy rear-ended her.

Personal injury cases in Georgia follow what is known as the “contributory negligence” rule. This basically means that the defendant may try and argue the plaintiff was partially responsible for their injuries. A jury will then assess the relative fault of each party and reduce the plaintiff’s damages accordingly.

In some cases, the judge may decide that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed a particular risk. In these situations, the judge will not submit the case to the jury. Instead, the court will dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint based on this “assumption of risk” defense.

Thompkins v. Gonzalez-Nunez

It is a longstanding rule in Georgia that employers are “vicariously liable” for torts committed by their employees. In other words, if you are hit by a delivery van that runs a red light, you can sue the company that employs that driver for damages. But there is an important caveat to this rule–the driver must have been “acting within the scope of his employment” at the time of the accident. If the driver was actually running a personal errand, even in a company-owned car, then the employer is not legally responsible.

Mannion & Mannion, Inc. v. Mendez

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Mannion & Mannion, Inc. v. Mendez, illustrates what we are talking about. This personal injury case arose from a March 2016 auto accident. A mechanic, one of the defendants here, left his employer’s business to take his lunch break. The mechanic did not have a set lunch time and did not have to “clock out”; he simply told his co-workers he was leaving.

This may sound like a test question from an introduction to philosophy class: If a truck hits two vehicles in succession, one right after the other, is that one accident or two accidents? When it comes to dealing with insurance companies, however, this is not just a hypothetical issue. How the law defines “accident” can significantly affect the award of insurance benefits to accident victims.

Grange Mutual Insurance Company v. Slaughter

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta recently confronted this “one accident or two” question in a complex personal injury case, Grange Mutual Insurance Company v. Slaughter, arising from an October 2015 incident. The driver of a dump truck owned by Four Seasons Trucking (FST) illegally crossed a center line and hit two other vehicles in rapid succession.

As a general principle of law, the owner of a property is typically not liable for failing to warn invited guests of hazards that are considered “open and obvious” to any “reasonable person.” In other words, if you see a giant puddle of water in the middle of a store aisle, choose to walk over it, and slip and fall, you may have a difficult time suing the store’s owner for failing to inform you of the danger. All the owner needs to do is point out the hazard–the puddle of water–was open and obvious to any reasonable person who was paying attention to their surroundings.

Carroll v. Carnival Corporation

But, if you will pardon the pun, it is not always obvious when a hazard is “open and obvious.” Judges and juries need to carefully weigh the available evidence in a given case. Even where the danger is ultimately found to be open and obvious, that does not always completely absolve the property owner of liability.

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