Articles Posted in Personal Injury

Back in 2018, we discussed Lee v. Smith, a personal injury lawsuit involving a former Olympic high jumper who suffered a fractured left hip and other injuries in a 2012 car accident. The victim sued the negligent driver and won a $2 million jury verdict. The defendant appealed in part because the trial judge prevented one of his expert witnesses from testifying at trial.

The Georgia Court of Appeals said the judge did nothing wrong in making this decision, but the Georgia Supreme Court was not so sure. While the state’s highest court did not immediately order a new trial, in a February 10, 2020 decision, it did order the trial court to reconsider its original ruling.

Lee v. Smith

There are two broad components to any personal injury lawsuit. The first component is establishing the defendant was negligent and violated some legal duty owed to the plaintiff. The second component is actually proving the damages sustained by the plaintiff as a result of this negligence.

When it comes to damages, a plaintiff needs to be as specific as possible, especially with respect to damages that can be calculated to some degree of certainty. You cannot simply show up in court and ask a judge or jury to “use common sense” in figuring out what the defendant owes you. To put it another way, you cannot ask the court to engage in speculation to decide your damages.

Perez v. Bowman

Tort law is designed to compensate individuals who suffer some form of personal injury. Tort law is separate from contract law. That is to say, a tort injury arises out of some general legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff, while a contract injury is based on the terms of the contract itself.

In Georgia the courts enforce what is known as the “economic loss rule.” This rule basically states that parties to a contract typically cannot file personal injury lawsuits against one another, “except in cases where the party would have a right of action for the injury done independently of the contract.” More broadly, Georgia does not allow a party to recover “purely economic losses” in a personal injury claim, regardless of whether or not a contractual relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant.

Murray v. ILG Technologies, LLC

Most people who are injured on the job are covered by Georgia’s workers’ compensation system. But there are different rules in place for people who work certain types of jobs, such as longshoremen who load and unload commercial ships in port. These workers are covered by a separate federal statute, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), which is designed to provide benefits to injured longshoremen while also establishing the relative liability of the shipowner and the stevedore, i.e., the firms that actually provide longshoremen services.

Purvis v. Line

A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Purvis v. Line, demonstrates how the LHWCA works in practice. This particular case involved an accident that occurred while a container ship, the Anna Maersk, was docked at the Port of Savannah in December 2015. The plaintiff worked as a longshoremen at the port. He arrived for his shift one night to begin unloading the Anna Maersk, which he had done several times before.

Not all personal injury claims involve physical acts. For example, if someone steals your private data, that can provide the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. Courts throughout the country have struggled, however, to define the precise threshold when a “legally cognizable” injury occurs. Does someone actually need to use the data obtained via hacking or other illicit means before you can bring a claim? Or does the mere fact that theft has occurred allow you to sue the person whom you trusted to keep the data secure in the first place?

Collins v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, PA

A recent decision from the Supreme Court of Georgia, Collins v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, PA, attempts to provide some answers to these questions. This case involves a June 2016 data breach in which an unknown attacker “stole the personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and health insurance details, of at least 200,000 current and former patients” of the defendant, an Athens-based healthcare provider. A number of patients whose data was compromised by this breach subsequently filed a lawsuit in Georgia state court, alleging the defendant refused to meet the attacker’s ransom demand, and as a result the hacker put “some of the stolen personal data” up for sale.

Personal injury claims, such as those arising from car or truck accidents, normally fall under state law. There are some special situations in which federal law may come into play, however. For example, if a railroad employee is injured in the course of his or her work, the employee can sue the employer under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Hartry

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently addressed a case involving the FELA, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Hartry. This particular lawsuit arose from a June 2010 accident at a public railway-roadway crossing. The plaintiff was working as an engineer on a Norfolk Southern train.

Many auto accidents are caused by drivers operating vehicles on behalf of their employers. When this happens, the employer is typically liable for the employee’s negligence under a legal principle known as “respondeat superior.” If the employer admits respondeat superior applies, then the injured victims are normally barred from bringing separate claims against the employer for “negligent hiring, hiring, retention, supervision, training, and entrustment.”

There is an exception to this rule, however, if the plaintiff seeks punitive damages arising from the accident. Again, punitive damages are not typically awarded in personal injury cases. In this context, punitive damages are only available if the plaintiff can prove the defendant employer itself was negligent to the point where it engaged in “willful misconduct, malice, [or] fraud.”

Kraese v. Jialiang

In a premises liability claim, an accident victim alleges that a property victim’s negligence caused his or her injury. Depending on the facts of the case, the property owner may raise one or more defenses, including what is known as “assumption of the risk.” Basically, this means that the evidence shows the plaintiff “had full knowledge” of the particular hazard that caused the injury, that the plaintiff “understood and appreciated” this risk, and that they “voluntarily chose to act” of their own free will knowing they might be injured.

Hoose v. United States

A recent decision from a federal judge in Macon, Hose v. United States, illustrates how assumption of the risk is applied by courts in practice. This case involved a personal injury lawsuit against the federal government. The plaintiff was making a delivery to Robins Air Force Base (RAFB). According to the plaintiff, he regularly made deliveries to the commissary at RAFB and was thus familiar with its layout.

In November 2015, two men stopped at an Atlanta gas station and convenience store. One man stepped out to get gas while the other was taking a nap in the front seat of the act. Shortly thereafter, a third man wearing a white hat confronted the man pumping the gas. This led to an exchange of gunfire. One of the bullets hit the second man in the car.

Khalia, Inc. v. Rosebud

The gunshot victim subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company that owned the convenience store. Evidence presented at trial indicated the store was a “well-known scene of illegal drug transactions” and, notably, at least “two incidents of prior gunplay.” Indeed, there had been another shooting at the same convenience store just three days before the incident that injured the plaintiff.

Following most car accidents, the victim has the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent driver in state court. What happens when the negligent driver is an employee of the federal government acting in their official capacity? To put it another way, can you sue a federal worker for an auto accident the worker caused when he or she was on the job?

The short answer is no, you cannot sue the employee directly. The longer answer is that you can bring a personal injury claim against the United States government. Under a law known as the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the U.S. government waives its normal immunity from being sued in its own courts and effectively “steps into the shoes” of the negligent employee. The FTCA basically allows you to sue the federal government and recover damages under state personal injury law.

There are certain rules you must follow before bringing a lawsuit under the FTCA. Normally, you must first file an administrative claim with the federal agency that employed the negligent worker. This administrative claim must be filed within two years of the original accident or injury and include the exact amount of money you are seeking in damages.