Articles Posted in Court Decisions

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Property owners are liable for injuries caused by their failure to correct or repair dangerous conditions. But what if the owner has rented or leased the property to someone else? Under Georgia law, an owner who has “fully parted with possession” (i.e., a landlord) is not liable for injuries sustained by third parties on the premises.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, the landlord is liable if the injury was the result of “defective construction.” Additionally, the landlord is responsible for his or her own “failure to keep the premises in repair.”

Aldredge v. Byrd, et al.

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If a reckless driver injures someone in a car accident, the driver may not be the only person liable for damages. If the driver was operating a vehicle owned by his or her employer, the employer may be vicariously liable for the victim’s injuries. If the employer had the vehicle insured, the insurance company may bear the ultimate financial responsibility.

Great American Alliance Insurance Co. v. Anderson

Of course, insurance companies often will not pay out without a fight. With respect to automobile insurance, policies often exclude coverage for employer-owned vehicles that are not used with the employer’s permission. What precisely constitutes “permission” can be difficult to determine.

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In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal praised the work of Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS), whose employees are charged with protecting abused and neglected children. The governor singled out a case manager in Telfair County who saved an infant’s life. He also proposed a 19% wage increase for case managers throughout Georgia, noting that the state pays its child welfare workers less than every other state in the southeast aside from Louisiana.

Cowart v. Georgia Department of Human Services

Despite the governor’s support, not everyone is satisfied with the the work of the state’s case managers. In fact, the Department of Human Services, which oversees the DFCS, is currently facing a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of a child who died, allegedly after a case worker failed to follow up on serious abuse allegations. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial judge’s decision dismissing the case, citing the need for additional evidence on a key legal issue.

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Every day, millions of parents entrust the safety of their children to the cars they drive. If there is a defect in a vehicle’s manufacture or design, a parent may not learn about until it is too late and their child has paid the price. When that happens, parents understandably want to hold the vehicle manufacturer responsible.

Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a terrible and tragic case. In 2012, a woman was driving her 4-year-old nephew to an activity when her Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by another driver. Upon impact, the Jeep’s fuel tank exploded, setting the vehicle on fire. According to court records, the 4-year-old “was alive and conscious while the Grand Cherokee was on fire and may have lived up to a minute with flames in contact with his body” before he died.

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In a premises liability case, Georgia law holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she had “equal or greater” knowledge of a hazard relative to the defendant. In other words, if you know there is a dangerous condition on someone else’s property and, in spite of that knowledge, you are injured, a judge may reject your personal injury lawsuit against the property owner.

Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how the question of a plaintiff’s “superior or equal” knowledge is dealt with in practice. The plaintiff was a tanker driver who delivered gasoline to a gas station owned and managed by the defendants. On the day in question, the plaintiff was making a delivery. The defendants required the plaintiff to manually measure the underground tank levels before and after each delivery. As the plaintiff later testified, he knew other drivers who had been “fired on the spot” for failing to follow this policy.

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Expert testimony is often a critical component of a personal injury case. Judges and jurors are not technical experts and often require assistance in understanding evidence. When it comes to “simple negligence,” though, expert testimony is generally unnecessary. A jury does not need help when common sense is sufficient to weigh the evidence and reach a logical conclusion.

Gardner v. Clark

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed a tragic case in which a trial judge improperly demanded expert testimony where none was necessary. The plaintiffs in this case were the children of a woman who died in November 2009. The mother lived in a mobile home that she rented from the defendant.

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In any type of Georgia civil case, such as a personal injury lawsuit, the parties are entitled to have their dispute heard by an “impartial” jury. Among other things, this means that none of the jurors are related to any of the parties to the case. In car accident lawsuits, this also includes any insurance companies that may be liable for a judgment.

Mordecai v. Cain

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently granted a plaintiff in a car accident case a new trial after determining the trial judge failed to properly screen the jury for potential bias. The underlying lawsuit arose from a car accident. The plaintiff alleged the defendant was “driving on the wrong side of the road” and collided with her vehicle, seriously injuring her. Because the defendant lacked sufficient insurance, the plaintiff served her uninsured motorist carrier, which “elected to try this case in the name of the individual defendant,” according to court records.

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Insurance policies frequently cover any damages incurred due to a car accident. But it is not unusual in Georgia for insurance companies to disclaim or otherwise reject coverage if the insured does not strictly comply with all terms of the policy. In some cases, insurance companies may end up fighting among themselves over who is liable for any damages arising from a personal injury claim.

Selective Insurance Company of America v. Russell

A federal judge in Gainesville recently addressed such a case. This is one of two lawsuits arising from a 2011 car accident. Two vehicles collided, resulting in the death of a passenger in one of the cars. The driver of Car A and the estate of the deceased passenger sued the driver of Car B in Georgia state court.

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In a premises liability case—that is, a personal injury lawsuit arising when someone is injured on another person’s property—the plaintiff must generally prove that the property owner possessed “superior knowledge” of the defective condition that caused the alleged injury. In other words, the danger must be known to the owner but not to the plaintiff. This does not mean a property owner in every case can simply plead ignorance to a hazardous condition. Nor does it mean that he or she can try to shift the blame to a third party, such as a contractor who worked on the property.

Hill v. Cole CC Kenesaw GA, LLC

An ongoing Georgia case illustrates how the law may protect injury victims in certain situations. The plaintiff in this case worked in an office building. On the evening in question, the plaintiff and a co-worker entered an elevator to leave the building. The elevator stopped at a point such that it was not level with the floor. The plaintiff subsequently tripped, hit her on head on a railing inside the elevator, and had to be taken to the hospital.

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According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, there are more than 2,000 vehicle-train collisions at railroad crossings every year. When such accidents result in serious injury or death to innocent motorists, it is only logical the victims would want to hold the railroad responsible. But in some cases Georgia law may frustrate these efforts, as illustrated by a recent federal appeals court decision.

Long v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

This case involves a fatal accident that occurred at the Emory Street Crossing in Covington, Georgia. In 1974, the Georgia Department of Transportation contracted with a private railroad to install new gates and crossing signals at the Emory Street Crossing. Some years later, the railroad made some changes to the design, which resulted in a 36-foot gap between the installed protective devices and the main railroad line.