Georgia Court Reinstates Auto Accident Lawsuit Despite Plaintiffs’ Missing Filing Deadline

It is always important in a personal injury case to present evidence in a timely manner. When one party files a motion or other pleading, the other party must file a response within a stated time limit. In particular, a plaintiff’s failure to meet any deadline may lead to dismissal of his or her lawsuit.

Hall v. Massally

Missing a deadline does not always mean the case is lost. Here is a recent example from the Georgia Court of Appeals. This case arose from a two-car accident. The driver and passengers of one vehicle sued the drive of the other vehicle. In a pretrial deposition, the driver of the plaintiffs’ vehicle testified he turned into what he believed to be an open right-hand lane. But as his car moved into the lane, there was a collision with the defendant’s vehicle. The plaintiff said the two vehicles interlocked and the defendant’s vehicle dragged his car about 20 to 30 feet across a median. After the two vehicles separated, he testified the defendant’s car continued to move “at a high rate of speed” for at least another 75 feet. The plaintiff concluded, based on his observations, that the defendant was driving well over the legal speed limit, “about ninety” miles per hour.

A pretrial deposition, of course, is not proof of a defendant’s guilt. Before trial, the defendant moved for summary judgment, a standard request in most personal injury cases. The plaintiffs, however, failed to file a response to the defendant’s motion, apparently because their attorney had withdrawn from the case. About one week after the court’s deadline, the plaintiffs, acting without an attorney, asked the trial judge for permission to file a late response. Later, the plaintiffs appeared in court with a new attorney, who asked to submit additional evidence in the form of a witness affidavit supporting the plaintiff’s deposition testimony that the defendant was speeding at the time of the accident.

The trial court ultimately granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding the plaintiffs presented “nothing for consideration” in support of their case. But in a decision issued on September 24th of this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed and returned the case to Superior Court for trial. Presiding Judge Anne Elizabeth Barnes, writing for the appeals court, said the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, which was previously filed with the trial court, alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion for summary judgment. Judge Barnes explained the plaintiffs’ failure to respond on-time to the summary judgment motion did not automatically require a ruling for the defendant. The plaintiffs merely forfeited their right to present additional evidence in opposition to the motion.

All that is required to survive summary judgment in a personal injury lawsuit is the existence of a factual dispute for a jury to resolve. Judge Barnes said the plaintiffs did so here. The deposition testimony clearly accused the defendant of causing the accident by driving in excess of 90 miles per hour. Whether or not that is true is for a jury to determine.

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