Articles Posted in Court Decisions

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In many personal injury lawsuits, a victim’s ability to recover damages may be limited by the terms of any insurance policy covering the incident. For example, if you are injured on someone else’s property and bring a premises liability claim, the property owner’s insurance policy can dictate how much you are able to recover in court. That is why it is important to understand any exclusions or limitations on an insurance policy, and where necessary to seek judicial interpretation in order to protect your interests.

First Mercury Insurance Company v. Sudderth

Here is a recent case on point. In May 2010, a woman was at a bar in McDonough, Georgia, with some friends. While paying her tab, a fight broke out behind her, and she was hit by a chair thrown by one of the bar’s security guards. She experienced significant pain in her right foot and fell to the ground.

Under Georgia law, a landowner who invites others onto his or her property is liable for any injuries arising from the owner’s “failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.” This does not mean a property owner must anticipate every possible scenario where someone may be injured. Rather, a court will look at whether there is a “causal connection” between a landowner’s conduct and the injury alleged.

Allan v. Jefferson Lakeside, L.P.

In a recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals examined the liability of a Marietta apartment complex owner for a tragic automobile accident which occurred on the property. The victim was a three-year-old boy who lived at the complex with his father. The child was riding in a rental car with his uncle, who was driving, and his father.

In Georgia, a dog owner can be held liable for an injury caused by his or her animal, provided the victim can demonstrate “the dog had the propensity to do the act that caused the injury and, if so … the owner had knowledge of that propensity.” This propensity test requires more than proof a dog exhibits generally “aggressive or menacing” behavior. Rather, as the Georgia Court of Appeals explained in a 1985 decision, “there should be an incident which would put a prudent man on notice to anticipate the event which occurred.”

Green v. Wilson

Recently, the judges on the Court of Appeals’ sparred over how narrowly to construe this “notice” requirement. The victim in this case worked as a house cleaner. The defendants owned a home cleaned by the victim and her co-workers. The homeowners also owned a border collie. According to the victim, it was normal procedure for her and the other house cleaners to “wait outside” until the owner locked the collie in a separate room. She testified the dog routinely “lunged, barked, and growled at the housecleaners.”

Thousands of Georgia residents take vacation cruises every year. You might wonder what happens if someone is seriously injured while at sea on such a cruise. For example, what legal standards apply when determining a ship operator’s negligence?

In a typical premises liability case—say, a slip and fall in a supermarket—the law of the state where the accident occurs govern any subsequent lawsuit. When a similar accident happens at sea, federal maritime law (sometimes called admiralty law) applies. In the United States, maritime law holds a ship owner owes a “duty of reasonable care” to protect its passengers from injury.

Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd.

How far may a court go in allowing jurors to personally examine evidence? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question in the context of a medical malpractice case. Specifically, the court reviewed a trial judge’s decision to allow jurors to physically touch a plaintiff’s hands.

Piedmont Newnan Hospital, Inc. v. RA-085 Barbour

The plaintiff in this case went to a hospital in Newnan, Georgia, complaining of chest pains. Hospital personnel conducted a series of diagnostic procedures, including a “nuclear stress test.” This test requires the use of IV catheters to inject small amounts of nuclear material into a patient’s arm. This material helps trace the flow of blood into the patient’s heart at different intervals.

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