Articles Posted in Lawyers

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.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently upheld an award of over $2.6 million to a Fayetteville woman who suffered personal injuries while shopping at a local grocery store. By a 6-1 vote, the appeals judges rejected the store’s claim it lacked “actual or constructive knowledge” of the hazard that caused the woman’s injuries. The court also upheld a $150,000 award to the woman’s husband for “loss of consortium.”

The Georgia Supreme Court has said that in any “slip and fall” case against a property owner, the plaintiff must prove two things: First, that the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of a hazard; and second, that the plaintiff lacked knowledge of the hazard despite “exercising ordinary care” for her own safety.

The Kroger Company v. Schoenhoff

Under Georgia law, a property owner must exercise “ordinary care” in maintaining safe conditions for persons invited onto the premises. If an invited person subsequently alleges he or she suffered an accident or injury due to the owner’s failure in this regard–a premises liability claim–then the burden is on the accuser to first prove the owner “had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused the accident.” Once the accuser meets this burden, then the onus shifts to the owner to prove that it was the accuser’s action or inaction that caused the injury.

Daugharty v. FDIC

A pending case before a federal judge in Valdosta illustrates how premises liability law works in practice. The plaintiff here visited a local bank in 2011 to close an account. This was her first time visiting this particular branch of the bank. She entered and exited the bank through a walkway leading from the parking lot to the bank’s doors. On her return trip after exiting the bank, the woman “tripped over a protruding lip of concrete in the walkway, fell to the ground, and injured herself.”

Insurance policies, such as those insuring commercial properties, usually contain a subrogation clause. In this context, subrogation means that when the insured suffers losses as the result of a third party’s conduct, the insurance company assumes the right to sue that third party for damages. Having paid the insured person’s claim, the insurance company then seeks compensation from the party who caused the claim to be paid in the first place.

But what happens when the insured party believes it has not been fully compensated for his or her loss? Must the insurance company “make whole” the insured before pursuing its own subrogation rights? This past May, the Georgia Supreme Court addressed that question and answered “no,” at least with respect to insurance policies covering commercial properties.

Justices Decline to “Invent a Right” To Be “Made Whole”

In 2005 the Georgia legislature adopted a controversial tort reform law that included an “offer of settlement” provision. Under this rule, either party in a tort action can make a pretrial settlement offer. If the other party rejects they offer, they can be held liable for the offering party’s attorney fees depending on the outcome of the subsequent trial. In the case of a plaintiff’s offer, the defendant is liable if the jury returns a judgment that is more than 125% of the rejected offer. Conversely, the plaintiff is liable if the jury returns an award that is less than 75% of a rejected defense offer.

A Prisoner Successfully Sues the State

While the offer of settlement rule clearly applies to personal injury lawsuits among private parties, what about torts committed by employees of the State of Georgia? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this question arising from a lawsuit brought by an inmate at Walker State Prison in Rock Springs. The inmate, David Lee Couch, had volunteered to help paint the prison warden’s home. The house was under renovation, and Couch fell through a rotted part of the floor. He said he was never warned about the dangerous condition of the floor before entering the home, which was owned by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

top gear.jpgAs a fan of the BBC series Top Gear and a civil litigation lawyer, it was with peaked interest I read the recent decision of Tesla Motors v. British Broadcasting Corporation, England and Wales Court of Appeals (Civil Division). The story of this case began with a 2008 Top Gear episode with a road test of the Telsa Roadster, conducted and narrated by the show’s host Jeremy Clarkson. During the episode, Jeremy put the vehicle through it’s paces and was rather critical of it’s performance. Tesla Motors was not pleased and sued BBC for libel alleging Top Gear made false statements about the Roadster, specifically comments by Jeremy that the vehicle only made it 55 miles on the track instead of Tesla’s promoted range of 200 miles.

As an American personal injury lawyer, I admittedly know very little about the merits of pursuing a libel suit in the United Kingdom’s court system. However, it makes no sense for a car manufacturer to blame it’s lackluster sales on a Top Gear episode. Anyone that watches the show knows its primary goal is to entertain car enthusiasts. Top Gear doesn’t claim to be some sort of British Consumer Reports conducting objective scientific tests on the best cars to buy. A typical test is conducted on a track at breakneck speed or some sort of crazy race against a jet, train or dog sled. Rarely will the average motorist ever find himself driving a vehicle under the insane conditions a car finds itself on Top Gear, which is exactly what Lord Justice Martin Moore-Bick wrote in the published opinion.

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Bribery.jpgA darker side of international business was recently exposed when the Associated Press obtained a recording of a lawyer, Jorge Hernandez Martin, for Baxter International, a leading U.S. drug manufacturer, offering to pay an opposing expert in a lawsuit if he would leave the country on a key court date to undermine the case. Ironically, Baxter International champions itself as a promoter of global anti-corruption efforts. The lawyer in the recording, Jorge Hernandez Marin, told the expert to buy a ticket to New York with his wife and then call and lie to the judge telling him his son had broken a leg in an accident and that would be why the expert could not accept the assignment.

The expert the lawyer was discussing this plan with was Rafael Aspura Alvarez, an expert witness for the company Translog, a trucking company, which is involved in a 25 million dollar suit with a Baxter in Mexico in which the pharmaceutical company alleges that Translog, because of ongoing financial problems, did not meet the terms of their contract by refusing to pick up and deliver critical supplies to kidney disease patients so were therefore forced to find other shippers. Translog counter this contending the contract gave their company exclusive rights to transport Baxter drugs in Mexico therefore it was violated. During the meeting the lawyer also offers him a trip to Las Vegas if he would rather go there rather than New York, and also tells him that he will double whatever the other side is paying him.

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Fulton_County_Court_House.jpgThomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Jury duty, like voting, is a right and privilege of every citizen. Every day people are empowered to decide important issues that potential impact everyone in our community.

An alarming story came out in the The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday that almost half of jurors summoned for jury duty in Fulton County fail to show. A crackdown has begun on jurors who skip jury duty by the Fulton County courts, but has so far provided little response. Last month, the Superior Court sent out 15,000 letters to no show jurors and warned them of contempt of court charges, $500 fines, and 20-day jail stays if they didn’t reschedule or explain themselves. To date only 48 percent of people receiving the letters have either called or written back.

When jurors do respond the most common reasons given for skipping were: “I never got the summons, “I traveled out of state,” and “I moved.” Regardless of the reason this is a very serious problem that is very costly for Fulton County and ultimately you the taxpayer. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that our entire system of justice comes down to one person: you, the juror. Taking the time to serve as a juror, to listen to all the evidence and to decide honestly and fairly is perhaps the most important duty a private citizen can perform. There is no question that everyone’s time is valuable, and that taking the time to serve as a juror might seem inconvenient, but it is time well spent, as our justice system depends on it. Citizens of this country enjoy freedoms and legal rights many in other countries only dream of. The protection of our rights and liberties is achieved through a strong court system, and serving as a juror is a cornerstone of the system.

Mark Twain once wrote “nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” John Stossel recently presented a program on Fox News vilifying the American Civil Justice System and Trial Lawyers and promoting “tort reform”. The Tort Reform movement, led by people like Mr. Stossel, believes we should restrict the constitutional right to trial by jury to honest Americans because of a few isolated incidents of frivolous lawsuits. However, when Mr. Stossel needs to use the civil justice system it’s okay.

Based on what happened in the video below, Mr. Stossel sued wrestler David Schultz and the World Wrestling Federation and settled his case for a healthy sum.

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In recent litigation, a Bank of America official, Renee Hertzler, admitted that she signed an average of 8,000 foreclosure documents every month and typically would never read them. We are currently seeing a troubling pattern of banks wrongfully evicting homeowners without proper documentation supporting the foreclosure.The average homeowner doesn’t understand the process, doesn’t know what proof the bank should produce, and can easily get rolled over by a powerful company like Bank of America. The video above is a wrongful foreclosure with an ironic happy ending.

Five months ago Bank of America filed for foreclosure on a Florida couple that owned their home outright. Although this couple had purchased the home from Bank of America in cash, the bank still mistakenly sought to evict the couple through the foreclosure process. As often happens to plaintiffs that file completely frivolous cases, the Judge ordered Bank of America to pay the couples’ legal fees after the case was dismissed.

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