Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

Just a few short years ago, ride-share services did not exist. It was less than a decade ago that the name “Uber” entered common usage, and the ride-share service became common in cities nationwide within a couple years. In the last six or seven years, ride-share services have proliferated, with Uber joined by Lyft, Sidecar, and who knows how many other services, some of them national, some regional, some serving only a few areas. No matter which service you use – and one in five Americans have used a ride-share service – the experience is largely the same. You use an app on your smartphone to ask for a ride, the car arrives quickly and gives you a ride to your destination, generally for less – often much less – than a traditional taxi cab would cost. Plus you can give the driver a bad rating if the service is not fast and courteous, an option simply not available with a taxi. What’s not to like?

Ride-Share Vehicles Get in Accidents, Too

The problem, of course, is that ride-shares, like the services offered by Uber and Lyft in Marietta and the surrounding area, are vehicles just like any others on the road. They can and do get into accidents. Ride-share drivers do not have special training, and no one really knows whether ride-share drivers get into accidents more or less frequently than the average driver on the road. A few years ago, a Chicago newspaper tried to find out, and learned instead that no government entity keeps statistics on ride-share accidents, and no ride-share service makes its accident statistics public. It is fair to assume, though, that ride-share drivers get into accidents at the same rate as pretty much every other driver on the road. So who pays if you get injured in a traffic accident while riding in an Uber, Lyft, or other rides-share service vehicle?

Accidents happen, perhaps especially on the roadways. When drunk drivers are present, accidents – often serious, sometimes fatal – are that much more likely to happen. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is among the top causes of traffic accidents in the United States every year. In 2018, drunk drivers were involved in 29% of all traffic fatalities. That percentage has been consistent for many years. More than 10,500 people died in 2018 in traffic accidents in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol content of .08% – the legal limit in every state. On average, an alcohol-related traffic death happened more than once per hour in 2018, at an economic cost of more than $44 billion.

While driving under the influence usually is the result of drinking alcoholic beverages, times change, and both legal and illegal drugs now are a factor in about 16% of all traffic accidents. These drugs can include prescription drugs, especially painkillers, that impair performance as well as illegal drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin or fentanyl or other opioids, whether legally or illegally obtained.

The Holidays Only Enhance the Risk of Being Hurt by a Drunk Driver

A Marietta man was charged with two counts of felony murder, two counts of serious injury by vehicle, felony fleeing, felony hit-and-run, reckless driving and speeding after leaving the scene of an accident in Midtown where an 18-year-old and a baby died.

Hit-and-Run

In Georgia, a driver’s obligation to stop after being involved in a car accident is contemplated in the Georgia Code. Under Section 40-6-270, the driver of a vehicle that has been involved in an accident that results in injuries, death of a person, or damages to another vehicle has the obligation to stop at the scene and stay there until he or she fulfills the following:

When an auto insurer unreasonably refuses to settle a personal injury claim against one of its policyholders, the policyholder can turn around and sue the insurance company for acting in “bad faith.” If successful, a bad-faith lawsuit can mean the insurer is liable for the full amount of any judgment that the accident victim obtained against the policyholder.

Whiteide v. Geico Indemnity Company

A federal appeals court recently asked the Georgia Supreme Court to resolve a number of legal questions arising from a successful bad-faith coverage lawsuit. The case was tried before a jury in federal court following Georgia state law. In situations like this, a federal court may opt to “certify” unresolved legal questions to the state’s supreme court before proceeding further.

Georgia law requires insurance companies to act in good faith when resolving auto accident claims. For example, if you are injured in an accident caused by another driver’s clear negligence, the other driver’s insurance company is expected to make a good-faith effort to negotiate a settlement, especially when your damages meets or exceeds the limits of the actual policy. Conversely, if the insurer acts in bad faith, you can file a lawsuit and seek additional damages.

Kemper v. Equity Insurance Company

For example, a federal appeals court recently revived a bad-faith lawsuit brought against an insurance company by the victim of a motorcycle accident. The plaintiff in this case, Kemper v. Equity Insurance Company, was driving her bike down a road in Coweta County, Georgia. Another driver, who it turned out was intoxicated, crossed the centerline of the road and crashed into the plaintiff, causing her serious injuries.

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.

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.

Is a parent automatically liable for a car accident caused by their minor child? Not under Georgia law. That said, there is an exception known as the “family purpose doctrine.” The doctrine dates back to a 1915 case, where the Georgia Supreme Court said:

If a father or mother, owning an automobile, and keeping it to be used for the comfort and pleasure of the family, should authorize a son to drive it for the comfort or pleasure of the family, this would make the owner liable for the negligence of the son operating the machine for such purpose.

The General Assembly later codified a form of the family purpose doctrine, which states a person is “liable for torts committed by … his child … by his his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business.” The Supreme Court further in a 2000 case that there are four preconditions to applying the doctrine:

Insurance companies will often file what are known as “declaratory judgment” lawsuits following an auto accident. Basically, the insurer wants a judge to declare that it is not responsible for defending or indemnifying its policyholders against any personal injury lawsuits that arise from the accident. These actions normally turn on the language of the specific policy at issue, as well as any exclusions allowed under Georgia insurance law.

Progressive Mountain Insurance Company v. Middlebrooks

But can an insurer obtain a declaratory judgment before anyone has even filed a personal injury claim? The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta recently confronted this question. This case, Progressive Mountain Insurance Company v. Middlebrooks, deals with a September 2017 auto accident in Albany, Georgia. A man was driving a Ford to a local dealership for repair when it collided with a bus. Both the driver and the owner of the Ford held separate insurance policies from Progressive Mountain.

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