Articles Posted in Marietta & Cobb County

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Many elderly Georgia residents are victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. In order to avoid potential personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits from injured patients, many nursing homes insist their residents sign “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) agreements that require any negligence or malpractice claims be submitted to binding arbitration. While arbitration can be beneficial in certain cases, it still requires a potentially vulnerable nursing home resident to forfeit access to the courts and other important legal rights.

Kindred Nursing Centers LP v. Chrzanowski

Georgia courts tend to enforce ADR agreements even where there is evidence that a nursing home resident was not necessarily in their right mind when they purportedly agreed to arbitration. A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates the uphill climb victims of nursing home abuse—or in the case, their families—face in seeking their day in court.

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A federal judge in Atlanta recently granted summary judgment to the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit. The case is notable because the judge never reached the merits of the plaintiff’s arguments, but rather dismissed the case because she lacked standing to bring the suit in the first place. The standing question is what made this case unusual.

Job v. AirTran Airways, Inc.

The alleged injury took place in 2009. The plaintiff was traveling from West Palm Beach to Atlanta on a plane operated by AirTran Airways. A malfunction in the plane’s air conditioning system caused some fluid to leak, allegedly splashing the plaintiff in the eyes. As a result, she claims she suffered chronic inflammation of her eyelid.

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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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Does a company admit negligence when its spokesman apologizes for an accident on its property? The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered such a case and held that such an apology is not, without additional evidence, enough to sustain a lawsuit against the company. The appeals court affirmed a trial judge’s decision to award summary judgment to the company.

Law v. BioLab, Inc.

In the early morning hours of May 25, 2004, a fire erupted at the BioLab chemical plant in Rockdale County. BioLab manufactures water treatment products for swimming pools and spas. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the fire occurred in a building that housed “approximately 12.5 million pounds of pool chemicals and oxidizers.” Rockdale County officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for a 1.5-mile radius surrounding the BioLab site.

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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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Cobb State Court.jpgAs a Marietta Trucking Lawyer, I’m always interested in significant Cobb County trials involving tractor trailer collisions. On Thursday I watched closing arguments in the case of Theresa Foster v. Landstar Ranger, Inc. et al. The case was filed by a Blakely, Georgia woman seeking to hold a Florida trucking company accountable for a 2007 collision that killed her husband, William Foster, killed a friend, Jay Demont, and caused her serious personal injuries. The evidence presented by the widow’s lawyers was compelling. As I left the Courthouse that evening, I felt fairly confident the jury would return a large eight figure verdict, but then you never know. On Friday the jury reached a verdict, awarding $40 million to Mrs. Foster, thought to be a record in a Georgia wrongful death case.
The driver of the Landstar 18-wheeler, Stephen Collins, ran a stop sign and collided with the Foster’s vehicle on February 11, 2007 while they were on a hunting trip in the southwest Georgia town of Blakely. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented evidence that Mr. Collins ignored 10 indications that he was approaching a stop sign, including rumble strips, lights, and signs. At the time of the accident, Collins was transporting a cargo of rubber pellets that caused the weight of his 18-wheeler to be over 77,000 pounds when it crashed into Mr. Foster’s 2002 Ford F-150. Both Foster and Demott were riding in the front seat of the truck, while Mrs. Foster who suffered broken ribs and a fractured vertebra was the lone back seat passenger.

In Georgia, if a trucking company kills someone, they are responsible for the value of that person’s life as well as the lost earning capacity of that person. Mr. Foster was a large wage earner and a successful businessman. Mrs. Foster’s lawyers presented a thorough economic analysis, supported by testimony of expert economists, accountants, and Mr. Foster’s business partners, that Mr. Foster’s lost earning capacity exceeded $43 million dollars. Landstar’s lawyers argued that the number was too high, but failed to present any evidence supporting a different number. From my point of view, it appeared the defense strategy was to sit back and rely on the reputation of Cobb County juries to deliver low verdicts.

At Church on Sunday I was asked a good question. “If a Florida corporation killed a Blakely, Georgia man in Blakely, why did the case get tried in Cobb County?” The answer surprised them, in Georgia cases are tried where the Defendant lives. Corporations “live” wherever they choose to have a registered agent. Ironically, Landstar Ranger, Inc. choose to set up their registered agent in Cobb County, because of our County’s reputation for very low verdicts. They figured if they ever killed anyone with a tractor-trailer they would get to pay less if the case was tried in Cobb County. However, from my experience as a Cobb County Personal Injury Lawyer, this perception is outdated. More often than not, Cobb County juries do the right thing and reach verdicts based on the evidence, whether that means a large or small verdict.

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Cobb State Court.jpgThis week a Cobb County jury awarded, 77 year old, Ramona Roper a $1.1 Million dollar verdict for the shattered pelvis injury she suffered from a dangerous and defective vehicle. Ramona worked full time as the City Clerk for the City of Jasper for 30 years. She lived on her own and had a very active lifestyle before the incident.

The case involved a 1994 Dodge Intrepid. It had a defective gear shift assembly which caused it to move out of park when the keys were out of the ignition. Chrysler recalled the Intrepid in 2004. Ramona took the car into Jasper Jeep to have the recall work done on three separate occasions between 2004 and 2007. The first two times the recall part was not in. The third time, the Jasper Jeep technician did not perform the recall work properly.

Shortly after the negligent repairs, Ramona was dropping off some food for her grandchildren when the incident occurred. Her three year old granddaughter reached into the center console of the car to pick up a drink and put her hand on the gear shifter causing it to shift out of park. Ramona’s driver side door knocked her over and the car ran her over. Had the repairs been performed correctly this incident would have been prevented. She suffered numerous fractures to her pelvis, was hospitalized for a week and was in a nursing home for approximately 6 weeks for recovery.

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