Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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Teenage suicide is a serious public health problem in Georgia. According to the Jason Foundation, a leading suicide prevention organization, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18.” Suicide kills more teenagers every year than cancer, heart disease, and birth defects combined.

City of Richmond Hill v. Maia

When a parent loses a child to suicide, he or she understandably wants to know why it happened. In some cases, the suicide may have been provoked by the reckless or negligent act of a third party. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently clarified the circumstances where such third parties may be liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a deceased child.

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In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal praised the work of Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS), whose employees are charged with protecting abused and neglected children. The governor singled out a case manager in Telfair County who saved an infant’s life. He also proposed a 19% wage increase for case managers throughout Georgia, noting that the state pays its child welfare workers less than every other state in the southeast aside from Louisiana.

Cowart v. Georgia Department of Human Services

Despite the governor’s support, not everyone is satisfied with the the work of the state’s case managers. In fact, the Department of Human Services, which oversees the DFCS, is currently facing a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of a child who died, allegedly after a case worker failed to follow up on serious abuse allegations. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial judge’s decision dismissing the case, citing the need for additional evidence on a key legal issue.

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Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers are responsible for patients who require ongoing medical care. When these facilities fail to follow proper protocols, the results can be fatal. Under Georgia law, any health care provider may be liable for wrongful death if there is a breach of duty that is the “proximate cause” of the patient’s demise.

Fields v. Taylor

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reinstated a wrongful death claim against a geriatrics doctor in Dublin. The lawsuit was brought by the daughter of a woman who died six years ago while under the defendant’s care at a rehabilitation center. The deceased had been admitted to the center temporarily while the daughter, her mother’s caregiver, was unavailable.

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Many Georgia car accidents are the result of a defect in the vehicle itself. Georgia product liability law recognizes three types of defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. The second group, design defects, includes any product that is not “reasonably suited to the use intended.” This means, for instance, that a product manufacturer may be held liable for damages if it selected an inappropriate or unsafe design.

Andrews v. Autoliv Japan, Ltd.

A design defect claim will only succeed if the plaintiff can prove the defendant actively participated in the design. Not every party who may have contributed some part of a vehicle is considered responsible for its design. A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta offers a helpful illustration.

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In any kind of personal injury lawsuit, it is critical for the parties to the case to preserve any evidence that may be relevant to the litigation. If a party intentionally or negligently destroys relevant evidence, this is known as spoliation, and a judge may impose sanctions, up to and including dismissing the case (if the plaintiff is at fault) or issuing a default judgment against the defendant. However, a court must also consider all relevant facts and circumstances in deciding whether or not sanctions are necessary.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how not all spoliation is fatal to a plaintiff’s case. This decision involves an ongoing product liability claim arising from a fatal car accident. The victim was driving his vehicle on a Georgia interstate “when his left rear tire detached,” according to court records. The vehicle “swerved out of control,” hit a guardrail, overturned “several times,” and finally came to a stop in a ditch.

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Expert testimony is often a critical component of a personal injury case. Judges and jurors are not technical experts and often require assistance in understanding evidence. When it comes to “simple negligence,” though, expert testimony is generally unnecessary. A jury does not need help when common sense is sufficient to weigh the evidence and reach a logical conclusion.

Gardner v. Clark

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed a tragic case in which a trial judge improperly demanded expert testimony where none was necessary. The plaintiffs in this case were the children of a woman who died in November 2009. The mother lived in a mobile home that she rented from the defendant.

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Is a bar owner responsible if a patron has too many drinks and subsequently gets into a car accident that injures an innocent third party? In some cases, the answer is “yes.” Like many states, Georgia has a dram shop law that applies to anyone who “sells, furnishes, or sells alcoholic beverages.”

An accident victim can sue the alcohol seller if three conditions are met. First, the seller must serve alcohol to a patron “who is in a state of noticeable intoxication.” Second, the seller must know that said patron “will soon be driving a motor vehicle.” Finally, this service of alcohol is the “proximate cause” of the victim’s injuries.

Barnes v. Smith

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Most car accident lawsuits in Georgia are handled by the negligent driver’s insurance company. If an insurer refuses to settle a personal injury claim “in bad faith,” said insurer may be liable for any judgment against the insured in excess of the policy’s normal limits. In other words, the insurance company may not place its own interests ahead of those of its policyholders by dragging its feet to avoid settling an apparently valid personal injury claim.

Linthicum v. Mendakota Insurance Company

But an insurance company’s obligation is only to act reasonably when attempting to negotiate a settlement. It is not necessarily liable just because no settlement is reached. A recent decision by a federal judge in Savannah illustrates this point.

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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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In Georgia, a defendant in a personal injury case arising from a car accident may argue what is known as the “sudden emergency” defense. Put simply, this means the defendant alleges he or she was presented with a sudden emergency and had insufficient time to react. If this was the case, the sudden emergency relieves the defendant of any and all liability for any accident arising from the sudden emergency.

Woodard v. Dempsey

The key to this defense is that the defendant could not have reasonably foreseen the emergency—otherwise it is not really a “sudden” emergency. An ongoing federal lawsuit in Atlanta illustrates how factual disputes over whether a defendant has alleged an actual emergency may arise.