Articles Posted in Lawyers

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An often overlooked element of many personal injury cases is the emotional harm sustained by the victim. Georgia courts have long recognized “negligent infliction of emotional distress” as a tort, but recovery is generally limited to cases in which the emotional distress is connected to a “physical impact.” In other words, if you are physically hurt in a car accident, you can sue the negligent driver for your emotional trauma, but you cannot seek damages for purely emotional scarring, i.e. watching a loved one die in an accident.

Coon v. Medical Center, Inc.

In 2000, the Georgia Supreme Court made an exception to the “physical impact rule,” holding that when a parent and child are both physically injured in the same accident, the parent can seek damages for the emotional distress caused by watching the child “suffer and die.” Recently, the state Supreme Court declined to extend this exception to another case in which a mother suffered emotional harm after watching a hospital mishandle the remains of her daughter.

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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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While it always important for the victim of a car accident to receive compensation for medical care and other injuries, it is equally imperative to obtain such compensation in a legal and equitable manner. A car accident is not an excuse to commit fraud. The Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed a case on this point.

AirTran Airways, Inc. v. Elem

This case began with a 2007 car accident. The victim sustained injuries and received medical care, which her employer initially paid for under its self-funded employee benefit plan. In accepting her employer’s medical benefits—totaling more than $130,000—she agreed to repay the company out of any proceeds she might subsequently receive from legal action against the driver of the second vehicle involved in the accident. In plain terms, the employer held a priority claim over any future legal settlement.

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows individuals to sue the United States Government for certain torts committed by its employees. In this sense, the FTCA waives the traditional “sovereign immunity” that the government enjoys from civil lawsuits. Although federal courts have jurisdiction over complaints brought under the FTCA, cases are judged under the tort law of the state where the alleged injury occurred.

Recently, a federal judge in Atlanta addressed a potential conflict in the standards for bringing tort cases in Georgia state courts versus federal courts under the FTCA. The judge rejected the federal government’s efforts to dismiss the case. The underlying lawsuit remains pending before the court.

Stidham v. United States

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An “uninsured motorist” policy provides coverage to the insured when he or she is the victim of an accident caused by another party that has insufficient resources to pay the full amount of any legal damages. In this context, “uninsured” also means under-insured. Thus, for example, if Driver A is in an accident caused by Driver B, and Driver B’s insurance only covers half of the damages awarded in a subsequent lawsuit, Driver A’s uninsured motorist carrier would pay the remaining half.

But what if Driver B is an agent of the State of Georgia? Normally, state agencies (and their employees) enjoy “sovereign immunity” from most civil lawsuits. The idea is that a state cannot be sued in its own courts without its consent, which is normally granted through legislation. However, when a local government in Georgia purchases liability insurance, sovereign immunity is waived up to the limit of said policy. What does this mean for accident victims with uninsured motorist coverage? A federal judge in Savannah recently attempted to answer this very question.

FCCI Insurance Company v. McLendon Enterprises, Inc.

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If you’re in a motor-vehicle accident, it can matter a great deal who owns the offending vehicle, at least when it comes to assessing legal liability. The State of Georgia and its subsidiaries, including cities and counties, are immune from most lawsuits arising from the negligent operation of vehicles by their employees. This “sovereign immunity” can extend even to egregious cases of failure to maintain vehicles in proper working order, as a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates.

City of Milledgeville v. Primus

Lucious Primus is an officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections. In 2006, Primus had to transport an inmate from a work detail in Milledgeville back to a nearby prison. The City of Milledgeville owned and maintained the bus Primus was driving. On this particular day, the brakes on the bus failed, causing Primus to drive off the road and hit a utility pole, injuring his neck and shoulders.

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If you’ve been in an automobile accident due to another driver’s negligence, and that driver’s insurance company asks you to sign a limited liability release in exchange for receiving compensation, it’s important you understand exactly what future legal rights you may be signing away. Even if you think a release may not cover some future claims, a judge may not see it that way. A recent case in a Georgia federal court helps illustrate this point.

Watford v. Cowart

This case began with a car accident in Cook County in late 2012. The plaintiff accused the defendant of negligence and sought punitive damages and attorney’s fees in addition to compensatory damages. The defendant admitted negligence (and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol) and her insurance company paid the plaintiff $300,000, the coverage limit on the policy. The plaintiff also has separate uninsured motorist coverage. In exchange for the $300,000, the plaintiff signed a limited liability release applicable to all claims for damages and injuries arising from the automobile accident, except to the extent provided by the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist policy.

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Is an emergency room supervisor responsible for the malpractice of medical staff under his supervision? The Georgia Supreme Court recently looked at such a case and answered “no.” The justices unanimously reversed a Court of Appeals decision that would have allowed a woman to pursue a professional negligence case against a physician she claimed was partly responsible for her mother’s death.

Herrington v. Gaulden

In October 2008, 64-year-old Deloris Gaulden was admitted to Liberty Regional Medical Center in Hinesville. Gaulden had fainted while attending church and complained of tightness in her chest. Despite these symptoms, emergency department personnel did not perform certain routine procedures–i.e., giving Gaulden aspiring or running an EKG–until about an hour after her admittance. Approximately 90 minutes after her arrival, Gaulden suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and died.

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Although it’s commonly said that police “protect and serve,” a local government is not necessarily liable when its sworn officers fail to protect the general public from harm. In a 1993 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court adopted what became known as a “public duty doctrine.” This doctrine holds that a municipality can only be liable for nonfeasance–a police officer’s failure to act–if there’s a “special relationship” between the individual alleging negligence and the local government. As defined by the Georgia Supreme Court, this means the police must give the person “an explicit assurance” of protection or assistance that the person then relies upon to his or her detriment.

Stevenson v. City of Doraville

Recently, the Supreme Court considered the application of the public duty doctrine to a negligence lawsuit arising from a multi-car traffic accident in DeKalb County. During a rainstorm one evening, a driver on Interstate 285 experienced car trouble. The driver was in the lane nearest the median. He attempted to cross six lanes and bring his car onto the shoulder, but the car stalled in the middle of the road.

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Under Georgia law, the winning party in a personal injury (or any other civil) lawsuit is usually not entitled to recover attorney fees or costs in connection with the litigation. As the Georgia Supreme Court noted in a 1941 decision, “Where there is a bona fide controversy for the tribunals to settle, and the parties can not adjust it amicably, there should be no burdening of one with the counsel fees of the other, unless there has been wanton or excessive indulgence in litigation.” The Georgia legislature may make exceptions to this rule, however, and one such example was the subject of a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision.

Horton v. Dennis

This case began with a 2008 accident in Telfair County. A tractor trailer crossing Highway 31 near McRae crashed into a truck. The truck driver suffered serious injuries, including a mild traumatic brain injury and permanent erectile dysfunction.