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In many successful personal injury cases, the defendant’s insurance company ends up paying most of the judgment. You might therefore think it would “save a step” just to sue the insurance company directly. In most cases, such “direct action” is not permitted under Georgia law. The legal theory behind this is that an insurance policy is a contract between the insurer and the insured, and the injured person is a third party who is not “privy” to this agreement.

However, Georgia law makes an exception to the prohibition on “direct action” when the insured party is a “motor carrier.” That is to say, if you are injured in an accident caused by a motor carrier, you may file directly sue both the carrier and its insurance company for damages.

Mitchell v. Dixie Transport, Inc.

Tort law is designed to remedy injuries caused by acts of man, as opposed to “acts of God.” Under Georgia law, this means that you cannot hold a defendant liable for “an accident produced by physical causes which are irresistible or inevitable, such as lightning, storms, perils of the sea, earthquakes, inundations, sudden death or illness.” In other words, if there is no “human agency” involved, there is no viable personal injury claim.

Head v. De Souse

But “act of God” does not mean a defendant can escape liability simply by pointing to a natural phenomenon that might have played some role in the accident. A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Head v. De Souse, offers a helpful illustration of this point. In this case, a teenage driver attempted to dismiss a personal injury lawsuit based on the fact there was sun in her eyes at the time of the underlying accident.

The dangers of asbestos have now been known for decades. Any exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to the development of mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer, and other illnesses. In many cases, asbestos-related illnesses do not manifest symptoms until decades after the exposure.

Davis v. John Crane, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued a decision in what is just the latest in a series of asbestos-related personal injury lawsuits. In Davis v. John Crane, Inc., the Court addressed a pair of related claims arising from the death of John F. Davis, a former worker at a fiberboard mill owned by Louisiana Pacific Corporation. As part of his job, David routinely “swept up dust and debris around the mill and assisted in the removal of gaskets on the mill’s boilers,” according to court records. This exposed Davis to a number of asbestos-containing parts.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued a decision, Handberry v. Manning Forestry Services, LLC, addressing an unusual personal injury claim. This case involved a man who died after falling into an abandoned well. The plaintiff, the victim’s widow, subsequently sued a number of defendants that she alleged were negligent in failing to address the hazard posed by the well prior to her husband’s death.

According to court records, the victim was driving a four-wheeler on private property with the permission of the owner. At some point, one of the four-wheeler’s tires “entered a well that was hidden by vegetation.” The vehicle overturned, throwing the victim into the well, where he sustained fatal injuries.

The defendants in this case included several companies that previously performed work on the property in question. The plaintiff based her claims on a specific Georgia statute, OCGA § 44-1-14, which deals with the “abatement of hazard” from an “abandoned well or hole.” In this context, an abandoned well is “any man-made opening on the surface of the earth which is 10 feet or more in depth and which has not been used for a period of 60 days.”

There is always a risk in personal injury lawsuits that a defendant may file for bankruptcy protection. If successful, a bankruptcy can effectively discharge the defendant from any obligation to pay a monetary judgment owed to the plaintiff. But what about the reverse situation? What happens if the plaintiff files for bankruptcy before the personal injury lawsuit is resolved?

Courtland Properties I, LLC v. Collins

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Courtland Properties I, LLC v. Collins, helps to explain how the law works in this situation. In this case, a man was injured in a slip-and-fall accident at his apartment complex. He subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the apartment’s owner, alleging its negligence in maintaining the property caused the accident.

When a car accident leads to a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant’s insurance company often plays a critical role. The insurer often takes the lead in providing the defendant with legal advice, and in many cases the insurer will work to try and settle a claim without the need for extensive litigation. On the other hand, if the insurer tries to disclaim coverage, that can lead to additional litigation regarding the insurer’s obligations.

United Specialty Insurance Co. v. Cardona-Rodriguez

Georgia has a state law known as the Declaratory Judgment Act. This law essentially permits an insurance company to file a separate lawsuit that asks a judge to clarify its obligations with respect to an insured defendant in a personal injury case. The declaratory judgment therefore serves to resolve any uncertainty or ambiguity in the interpretation of an insurance policy.

Last year we discussed a case where the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a residential lease between a landlord and tenant could be used to shorten the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim from two years to just one year. The plaintiff tenant subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Georgia to review that decision. The Supreme Court agreed to do so, and on October 21, it issued a decision reversing the Court of Appeals.

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC

To briefly review the facts of this case, the plaintiff rented an apartment from the defendant. One day, the plaintiff fell in a common area of the apartment complex. She maintains her fall was the result of improper maintenance, specifically with respect to a portion of the curb where her food got caught. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

In recent years there have been hundreds of personal injury lawsuits filed against Mentor, the manufacturer of ObTape, a mesh sling used to treat urinary incontinence. According to a 2009 report in the New York Times, Mentor stopped selling ObTape in 2006 after reports emerged that pieces of the mesh sling were breaking off inside of patients. This rendered the devices ineffective in stopping incontinence and led to a variety of additional side effects, such as chronic bladder inflammation.

Taylor v. Mentor Worldwide LLC

Eventually, more than 800 lawsuits against Mentor, which is now owned by Johnson & Johnson, were consolidated as part of a multi-district litigation (MDL) proceeding here in Georgia. One of the first cases from this MDL to go to trial involved a woman named Teresa Taylor. She specifically accused Mentor of design defects in ObTape.

In April 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice lawsuit, Evans v. Rockdale Hospital, LLC, after the jury in the original trial determined a defendant was partially at fault for medical malpractice, yet awarded zero damages for the victim’s pain and suffering. The Court of Appeals found this award “clearly inadequate” under the circumstances, especially since the same jury awarded over $1 million in damages for medical expenses. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently weighed on this same case and determined the Court of Appeals overstepped its authority in ordering a new trial.

Rockdale Hospital, LLC. v. Evans

To briefly review the facts of this case, a 60-year-old woman went to the emergency room of the defendant’s hospital, complaining of a severe headache, high blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting. The hospital staff discharged the woman without identifying any specific cause of her symptoms. Later, doctors at another hospital determined the woman had “suffered several strokes as a result of a ruptured brain aneurysm.” Even following multiple surgeries, the woman remains “permanently and totally disabled.”

On November 19, 2016, a dock attached to a ferry terminal in Savannah collapsed, sending more than 60 people into the water, according to news reports at the time. A number of these people sustained serious injuries, and a Savannah firefighter died after suffering a dissecting aneurysm while participating in rescue activities.

Chatham Area Transit v. Brantley

As you might expect, there was a substantial legal fallout to the deck collapse. Several victims filed personal injury lawsuits against both the City of Savannah and Chatham Area Transit (CAT), which owned the dock. In early 2018, the City moved to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing it was protected by both sovereign immunity and Georgia’s Recreational Property Act (RPA). CAT subsequently argued it was also protected from suit under the RPA.