Articles Posted in Court Decisions

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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.

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Many car accidents are the result of a defect in the design or manufacture of part of the vehicle. A manufacturer may be held liable under Georgia law for such defective products. A jury may also find a manufacturer failed to adequately warn consumers about certain safety risks associated with a product.

Key Safety Systems, Inc. v. Bruner

On November 19, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a $4.7 million verdict holding a seat belt manufacturer partially liable for the tragic death of a 47-year-old mother of two. In September 2007, the victim was riding in the family’s Jeep Wrangler, which her daughter was driving. For undetermined reasons, the Jeep left the roadway and rolled over. Despite the fact mother and daughter were wearing seat belts, the mother was ejected from the vehicle and died. A witness at the scene testified that the victim, who survived for a short time following the rollover, said she could not understand why she was ejected as she was wearing her seat belt. The victim’s husband later testified his wife was “emphatic” in always wearing her seat belt.

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If an employee is injured on the job or in the course of employment, he or she may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under Georgia law. But what happens when an employee’s accident or injuries can be attributed to the negligence of someone other than the employer? While workers’ compensation does not preclude the employee from suing such persons, any subsequent award may be subject to “subrogation lien” filed by the employer.

Basically, a subrogation lien protects the employer’s ability to recover any money it paid out in workers’ compensation benefits. Georgia law establishes certain conditions for enforcing subrogation liens. The lien cannot “exceed the actual amount of compensation” paid to the employee, and the employer may not recover unless “the injured employee has been fully and completely compensated” for all “economic and non-economic losses.” It should also be noted if the employee fails to sue the negligent third party within one year, the employer (or its workers’ compensation insurer) may bring such a lawsuit itself.

Best Buy Co. v. McKinney

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Premises liability refers to a property owner’s responsibility for any hazard on his or her land that causes injury to someone. In Georgia, premises liability is based on the owner’s “superior knowledge” of the hazard. That is, if the owner knew about a dangerous condition in advance and the injured person did not, the victim may sue for damages.

Forest Cove Apartments, LLC v. Wilson

Likewise, if the victim had “equal knowledge” of the hazard, Georgia courts will dismiss any premises liability claim. Here is a recent example. This case involves a contractor hired to repair several apartment units in an Atlanta public housing complex. Throughout 2011, the contractor and her crew repaired the joist supports under the subfloors of 26 apartments.

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Georgia is a “comparative fault” state. This means in a personal injury lawsuit, any damages awarded a plaintiff must be reduced in proportion to his or her share of the liability. For example, Driver A and Driver B are in an automobile accident. Driver A sues Driver B for negligence, and a jury awards Driver A $10,000 in damages. If the jury also determines Driver A was 30 percent responsible for the accident, the judge would accordingly reduce the damage award from $10,000 to $7,000.

Bullock v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

A federal judge in Columbus recently applied Georgia’s comparative fault rule to a product liability case. The plaintiffs are a husband and wife who were in a single-car accident. They alleged a defect in the vehicle’s turbocharger caused it to suddenly accelerate. The wife, who was driving at the time, said she lost control of the vehicle, which left the road and flipped over, seriously injuring her. Her husband also sought damages for his wife’s injuries under a “loss of consortium” claim. The couple named the manufacturers of the car and the turbocharger as defendants.

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In personal injury cases, such as those arising from car or truck accidents, it may not be enough to prove the other driver was responsible. A victim may find it is impossible to recover damages even from an insured defendant if the insurer can prove the defendant did something which renders the policy inapplicable. In other words, a defendant’s own carelessness can leave a plaintiff with a worthless judgment.

Progressive Mountain Insurance Company v. Cason

Here is a recent example from a federal case involving a Georgia truck accident. The victim was driving his truck on Georgia Highway 232 when he was rear-ended by a second truck. As a result of the accident, the victim suffered a “severe concussion,” which caused him to miss several months of work. The victim claimed the second driver was at fault for the accident because he was speeding and did not look where he was going just before the collision occurred.

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Many businesses and non-profit organizations have insurance policies that cover the negligent acts of their employees and agents. With respect to non-profits, such policies may also cover acts of unpaid volunteers working for the group. A federal judge in Valdosta recently considered how broadly to define “volunteer” in a case arising from a tragic automobile accident.

GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company v. Daniel

On Christmas Eve, 2009, a couple was traveling to see family when they got into an accident with another vehicle in Jeff Davis County. The husband was paralyzed from the navel down and suffered a host of additional serious injuries, including a concussion, six broken ribs, and lacerations to his spleen and liver. The couple subsequently filed a lawsuit in Georgia state court, alleging the second driver’s negligence caused the accident and his injuries.

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Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to compensate car accident victims when the negligent parties lack sufficient insurance to cover all damages on their own. Typically a claimant must exhaust all other available insurance before receiving uninsured motorist benefits. But what happens when an insurance company represents both drivers in an accident, and the injured party has reason to believe the insurer is manipulating the situation to avoid paying a valid uninsured motorist claim? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case.

Chandler v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company

In April, 2010, a couple was traveling on a parkway with their daughter and another relative, the husband’s brother. While passing through a intersection with a green light, a drunk driver hit the family’s car, injuring all four occupants and damaging their vehicle. The wife in the injured vehicle and the negligent driver both had automobile insurance policies from the same company.