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Georgia Court Rules Bicycle Accident Victim May Attempt to Add Defendant to Personal Injury Case

There are often situations in which the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit may need to amend his or her complaint. Sometimes an amended pleading is necessary to correct a mistake. In other situations, an amendment may be appropriate to add a new argument or even a new defendant that needs to be brought into the litigation.

Findley v. City of Atlanta

Georgia trial courts are expected to be fairly liberal in granting permission to file amended complaints. Even if a defendant has already filed his or her own responsive pleadings, that does not necessarily prevent the plaintiff from seeking leave to amend. In fact, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently reinstated a personal injury lawsuit that was improperly dismissed by the trial judge before giving proper consideration to the plaintiff’s motion to add a defendant.

Here is what happened. The plaintiff was injured in a bicycle accident. More specifically, his bicycle allegedly “collided with a guy-wire that was anchoring a utility pole” on a bike path owned by the City of Atlanta. The plaintiff’s original complaint named the City as a defendant.

During the course of pre-trial proceedings, the plaintiff filed several amended complaints without incident. The City moved for summary judgment in the case on the grounds of sovereign immunity. (This refers to the legal principle that holds you cannot sue a state or one of its subdivisions without its “consent,” which usually comes in the form of a legislative waiver.) In response, the defendant filed another amended complaint, this time proposing to add Georgia Power Company as a defendant, presumably because it owned the offending utility pole.

The City objected to this new amended complaint. The judge never actually bothered to issue a ruling on whether the plaintiff should (or should not) be allowed to add Georgia Power Company as a defendant. Instead, the judge went ahead and simply granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, ending the case altogether.

The Court of Appeals said that was a mistake. The appeals court noted that there was a period of nearly four months between the the time the plaintiff filed his amended complaint and the trial judge issuing his decision regarding summary judgment. Obviously, this gave the trial court “ample” opportunity to properly address the plaintiff’s motion, the Court of Appeals held.

Put another way, the trial court prematurely granted the City’s motion for summary judgment. It should have ruled on the amended complaint first and then gone from there. The Court of Appeals instructed the trial judge to do just that. Keep in mind that the appeals court took no position on the merits of the plaintiff’s case. Nor will its ruling prevent the trial court from once again granting summary judgment to the City. Since the sovereign immunity defense would not apply to Georgia Power, assuming it is added as a defendant, the plaintiff would still be able to pursue damages against someone for his bicycle accident.