Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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.

It is not uncommon following an auto accident for the negligent driver’s insurance company to make a settlement offer. If the victim accepts the offer, that forms a legally binding settlement agreement. In other words, if the victim later tries to back out of the deal, the insurer has the right to go to court and seek enforcement of the original settlement.

Barnes v. Martin-Pierce

This is exactly what happened in a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, Barnes v. Martin-Prince. This case involves a fatal 2014 car accident. The defendant in this case was driving her car when she “crossed over the centerline of the highway into oncoming traffic and collided with” another vehicle, according to court records. The driver of the other vehicle, a 62-year-old man, died from his injuries. Police later arrested the defendant for DUI and vehicular manslaughter. She would plead guilty to those charges and receive a seven-year prison sentence.

Georgia law requires auto insurance companies to offer “uninsured motorist” (UM) coverage with every new policy. As you probably know, UM coverage provides you with benefits if you are injured by an unknown driver in a “hit and run” accident, or by a known driver who simply lacks sufficient insurance to compensate you for your injuries. By default, your insurer must offer minimum UM coverage of $25,000 per person (or $50,000 per accident), or the level of standard liability coverage, whichever is higher at the time.

You are, of course, free to reject UM coverage when you purchase your insurance policy. The insurance company is required to get this rejection in writing. Once you reject UM coverage, keep in mind the insurer is not required to get a new rejection each year when you renew the policy. In other words, once you reject UM coverage, that rejection may remain in force as long as you keep that same policy.

Hunter v. Progressive Mountain Insurance Company

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.

In most cases, damages arising from a car accident are covered by the negligent driver’s auto insurance policy. But what if the accident occurred while the car was still in the owner’s driveway? Would homeowner’s insurance actually cover such damages?

Wilkinson v. Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed these questions in Wilkinson v. Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. This case began when a man named Buchanan purchased a used Ford F350 truck. One of Buchanan’s co-workers, a man named Wilkinson, asked to take a look at the truck. Wilkinson and his wife subsequently went to Buchanan’s house.

When you file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent driving following an auto accident, in most cases this means you are really seeking compensation from the driver’s insurance company. Unfortunately, insurance companies are quite adept at asserting their own legal rights. This includes taking legal action to void a policy if they believe the policy holder–i.e., the negligent driver–did not strict comply with its terms.

American Family Insurance Company v. Almassud

A recent case before a federal judge in Atlanta, American Family Insurance Company v. Almassud, offers a cautionary example. This case involves a 2012 accident in Cumming, Georgia. The defendant was driving his Jeep. According to court records, the Jeep “veered into oncoming traffic and struck a vehicle driven” driven by a woman who sustained serious injuries.

When a car accident occurs, there may be more than one party who is liable for the victim’s injuries. For example, if the negligent driver was acting on behalf of an employer, the latter can be sued under a number of legal theories. Depending on the specific facts of the case–as well as the defendant employer’s response to the lawsuit–some of these theories may be unavailable to the victim.

Terry v. Old Hat Chimney, LLC

Take this recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Terry v. Old Hat Chimney, LLC. This case began with a rear-end auto accident that took place in July 2016. The plaintiff claims the other driver, one of the defendants, was liable for his injuries arising from said accident.

Parents entrust their children to a number of responsible adults every day, including teachers and bus drivers. When something goes wrong and the child is injured–or even killed–while under another person’s care, the parents understandably want to hold that person responsible. Unfortunately, the law does not always help parents in this regard, particularly when the responsible person happens to be a public employee.

Odum v. Harn

A recent ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Odum v. Harn, typifies the uphill battle parents face when seeking accountability. This case involves a 2013 accident that resulted in the death of a 5-year-old child. The victim was riding on a Bryan County school bus operated by the defendant.

Most personal injury claims arising from an auto accident are paid via a settlement with the negligent driver’s insurance company. What happens when the insurer refuses to settle and the injured parties successfully sue the negligent driver for damages? In such scenarios, the driver may be able to sue the insurer for its “bad faith” refusal to settle the personal injury claim in the first place.

First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes

When does an insurance company’s “duty to settle” actually arise? Does the insurer have to wait for the injured victims to file a lawsuit? Or should the insurer reasonably anticipate when such a lawsuit is likely to occur? The Georgia Supreme Court recently addressed both of those questions.