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When you visit a public pool or are invited to use a private pool, the operator assumes a certain duty to “exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the safety” of you and any other guests. This means, for instance, if someone drowns in the pool due to improper maintenance or a lack of safety equipment, the pool operator may be legally liable. But what happens when someone drowns in a public body of water such as an ocean?

Downes v. Oglethorpe University, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question in the context of a wrongful death lawsuit. The victim was a college student who died while participating in a study abroad program. The parents sued the school, alleging its negligence led to their son drowning in the Pacific Ocean.

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While personal injury cases arising from motor vehicle accidents tend to involve cars or trucks, it is important not to overlook other kinds of vehicles such as buses. For instance, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last December that there were “more than 700 accidents” involving school buses in Metro Atlanta during 2016–a rate of nearly two per day. These accidents resulted in over 300 injuries to students and teachers.

Croy v. Whitfield County

Bus operators, including school districts and public transit agencies, can be held liable for damages when driver negligence leads to passenger injury. Personal injury lawsuits against public agencies in Georgia are often complicated by additional notification requirements. Since the State of Georgia and its political subdivisions are normally immune from personal injury claims, plaintiffs must strictly comply with these requirements just to have their cases heard.

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Many single-car accidents are the result of a defective part. If that is the case, the driver may have a personal injury claim under Georgia product liability law. Specifically, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11 states that a court may order a manufacturer to pay damages to any person “who suffers injury to his person or property” as the result of merchandise that “was not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended.”

Phillips v. Owners Insurance Company

Given that product liability cases are highly fact-specific and by their very nature revolve around a particular item, it is critical to preserve any and all physical evidence from a car accident. It may take several months or years to fully investigate the cause of the accident and the potential liability of the numerous manufacturers involved. When evidence is lost or destroyed, it can adversely affect a victim’s case.

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While premises liability is often associated with commercial businesses (think a slip-and-fall at the supermarket), any property owner may be held responsible if an invited guest is injured. This is why homeowners insurance policies typically offer liability coverage. For instance, if someone falls down the stairs at your house, your homeowners insurance will cover the medical bills.

Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Roberts

What if someone is injured on your property in a criminal act? Insurers often try to disclaim coverage in such situations. But depending on the precise wording of the policy, the insurer may still be liable.

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It is a well-established principle of Georgia personal injury law that an employer can be held legally responsible for the negligent acts of its employees. In other words, if you are injured in a car accident because a delivery van ran a red light, you can sue the company that owns the delivery van for damages. This is known as “vicarious liability.”

What happens when a teenager drives his or her parents’ car and causes an accident? Vicarious liability can also apply in these cases under a rule known as the “family purpose doctrine.” As explained by the Georgia courts, the doctrine holds that “the owner of an automobile who permits members of his household to drive it for their own pleasure or convenience is regarded as making such a family purpose his ‘business.’” So, by letting your child use your car, you are creating a “master-servant” relationship similar to when an employer authorizes an employee to use a company-owned vehicle.

Doby v. Bivins

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The Atlanta region is widely known as one of the most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. All Georgia drivers have a legal duty to stop and yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. But pedestrians must also exercise care. Among other things, if a pedestrian crosses a road outside of a clearly marked crosswalk, he or she must yield to traffic. A pedestrian who ignores this rule assumes the risk of injury and may not be able to win a personal injury claim if hit by a car.

Politzer v. Xiaoyan

Here is an example of how Georgia courts will not show much sympathy for a pedestrian who fails to follow the rules of the road. The plaintiff in this case was out walking in her neighborhood one evening. It was already dark out and the plaintiff was wearing mostly black clothing. As she was completing her walk and returning home, the plaintiff crossed a road outside of the crosswalk, which she claimed was “unsafe” because drivers were known to speed through the intersection without stopping and yielding to pedestrians.

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Last year we discussed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision ordering a new trial in a premises liability case involving a well-known theme park in Cobb County. The case began when two patrons and their families were repeatedly threatened by rival gangs who were known to frequent the theme park. Even after some of the gang members threatened to shoot the patrons in the parking lot, park security failed to eject the assailants.

Shortly thereafter, a group of about 40 gang members did, in fact, approach the families in the parking lot, which was still on theme park property. Although the families escaped the approaching mob, some of the gang members proceeded to beat a bystander who happened to be seated at a bus stop near the park’s entrance.

The bystander later sued four of the men who attacked him. He also named the theme park owner as a defendant under Georgia’s premises liability law. A jury eventually found the plaintiff was entitled to $35 million in damages and apportioned 92% of the blame to the theme park.

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Teenage suicide is a serious public health problem in Georgia. According to the Jason Foundation, a leading suicide prevention organization, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18.” Suicide kills more teenagers every year than cancer, heart disease, and birth defects combined.

City of Richmond Hill v. Maia

When a parent loses a child to suicide, he or she understandably wants to know why it happened. In some cases, the suicide may have been provoked by the reckless or negligent act of a third party. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently clarified the circumstances where such third parties may be liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a deceased child.

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Premises liability refers to a landowner’s legal duty to “exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court. In other words, if you own a building and invite members of the public in, you must take reasonable precautions to protect your guests from a foreseeable harm. You are not required to insure the public’s safety from all possible or existing hazards, but you must exercise a certain degree of due diligence, i.e. inspecting your property regularly to see if any dangerous conditions exist.

Duff v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

The key to any premises liability claim is establishing the existence of a hazardous condition. This generally requires a careful examination of the facts in a given case. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to assessing the existence of a hazardous condition.

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Many Georgia residents take out “umbrella” policies to provide extra insurance protection in the event of an accident. An umbrella policy provides liability coverage above and beyond standard homeowners or automobile insurance. For example, let’s say your auto insurance policy provides $25,000 in coverage for bodily injury. You get into an accident and the other driver sues you for damages. The court awards the driver $100,000, which obviously exceeds your policy limit. At this point, if you have an umbrella policy, which typically provides coverage in the millions of dollars, it would cover the rest of the judgment.

Massey v. Allstate Insurance Company

You can also purchase an umbrella policy for uninsured motorist coverage. This refers to insurance that pays for injuries that you sustain in an accident caused by another driver who either has no insurance or lacks sufficient coverage to pay for your total damages. Georgia law requires all insurers to offer uninsured motorist coverage of at least $25,000 for bodily injury to a single person (or $50,000 for multiple people injured in the same accident). The customer has the option of rejecting UM coverage, but it must be offered.