Georgia Appeals Court Reviews Tragic Car-Truck Accident, Finds Neither Driver Responsible

Sometimes there’s a deadly automobile accident where neither driver is legally at fault. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently made just such a finding with regards to a June 2010 highway accident just outside of Albany. While a trial judge thought there were issues for a jury to sort out, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed the undisputed facts showed neither party could be held legally responsible.

The accident involved a woman driving her car on a northbound lane. A truck in the southbound lane suddenly veered across the turning lane and struck the car. The woman driving the car suffered a broken leg and other injuries. The man driving the truck sustained a head injury and could not recount the details of the accident to a police. It was later discovered the truck driver had suffered a stroke just before the accident, and he died a few weeks later.

The automobile driver sued the truck driver’s estate for negligence. The truck driver’s executor responded by filing a negligence counterclaim against the automobile driver. The trial judge refused both parties’ motions for summary judgment but allowed them to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals.

Car Driver Exercised “Ordinary Care”

In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. In assessing the automobile driver’s lawsuit, therefore, the appeals court looked at the facts most favorable to the truck driver’s estate. The car driver’s undisputed testimony showed she didn’t see the truck until it was just six feet from her, leaving her no option but to suddenly swerve to the right, causing her to hit a second car. The driver of that car confirmed the woman had done nothing wrong.

Georgia law only requires a driver on the highway exercise “ordinary care” in avoiding collisions with other motorists. The estate had no evidence to rebut the evidence showing the woman was driving her car in the correct lane before the truck suddenly came at her. Accordingly, there was no material issue of fact for a jury to decide with respect to the estate’s negligence claim.

Truck Driver Not Liable for “Act of God”

As for the car driver’s lawsuit, the undisputed evidence showed the truck driver had suffered a stroke, which caused him to lose control of his vehicle. The first police officer to arrive at the accident scene testified the truck driver was unconscious and could not later recall what had happened. Furthermore, the truck left no skid marks or other indication of breaking, indicating the driver had lost consciousness and therefore control. A physician also testified as to medical evidence of the truck driver suffering a stroke that day.

Under Georgia law, a driver is not liable for damages when an “unforeseeable illness” or an “act of God” causes him to lose control of a vehicle. The automobile driver could not rebut the testimony establishing the truck driver suffered an unexpected stroke. The truck driver’s physician expressly stated his patient had no prior medical history that would have suggested a risk of a stroke. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals said the truck driver’s estate was also entitled to summary judgment. As far as the Georgia courts are concerned, this was in fact a tragic accident where neither party was negligent.

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