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Before initiating any kind of personal injury lawsuit, it is important to gather all of the relevant facts and make sure that you are consistent and truthful in any pretrial statements you make, whether to your own attorney or to the court. Inconsistencies, even if they are honest misunderstandings or lapses in memory, can significantly harm your case. In some circumstances they can even prove fatal to a claim.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Corp. v. Fabrizio

You especially do not want to get caught in an inconsistency when dealing with an insurance company. A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals offers a useful illustration of why not. This ongoing lawsuit started with a 2013 car accident between the plaintiff and another driver. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.

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Everyone understands that you need to be careful when walking in the rain. But just because it is raining outside, that does not automatically absolve store owners of their legal duty to keep their premises in reasonably safe condition for patrons and other invited guests. Put another way, while a store is not necessarily liable for injuries sustained by a customer who slips in a puddle of rainwater near the entrance, if there is evidence the entrance’s design is defective or hazardous, then the customer may have a claim for damages.

Hart v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

Here is an illustration of this principle from an ongoing personal injury lawsuit from Columbus, Georgia. The plaintiff went to the local superstore to shop in its garden center. it was raining at the time. When the plaintiff stepped inside the store, he slipped and fell and sustained serious injuries.

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Acting as your own attorney is never a good idea. This is especially true when it comes to personal injury claims. Even a seemingly “simple” lawsuit arising from something like a car accident can implicate many complex questions of law. If you have never participated in a civil lawsuit before, you can easily get tripped up on even the most basic procedures, which in turn can finish your case before it even begins.

Clarke v. McMurry

A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta offers a helpful cautionary tale. The plaintiff in this case represented himself. He worked for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). While operating a vehicle in the course of his work, the plaintiff was hit by a drunk driver. As a result, the plaintiff said he suffered a traumatic brain injury and “skeletal damage,” as well as “extreme emotional distress.”

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Dealing with an insurance company following a car accident can be a major hassle. As a result, some accident victims simply put it off. This is almost always a mistake. It is not simply a good idea to notify your insurer of your accident in a timely manner. In many cases, you can be denied coverage when you later file a claim.

Sharpe v. Great Midwest Insurance Company

Here is a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision that illustrates how unforgiving judges can be when it comes to enforcing notification requirements. This case arises from a 2013 truck accident in Statesboro. The plaintiff was driving a vehicle owned by his employer when he was rear-ended by another vehicle. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff sustained a serious neck injury.

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Auto insurance is designed to pay for damages caused by an accident. In many cases an insurer will negotiate a settlement with the injured party. While the insurer is not obligated to pay claims it determines are unsubstantiated, the insurer cannot simply refuse to pay without consequence. Under Georgia law, an insurer can be held liable for “bad faith or negligent refusal to settle a personal claim within the policy limits.”

What does this mean in practice? Say you have a policy that covers $100,000 for bodily injury claims per accident. You are subsequently involved in an accident and are determined to be at fault. The other driver offers to release any potential personal injury claim against you in exchange for the limit of your policy, i.e. $100,000. The insurer refuses to settle. The other driver sues you in court and the jury returns a verdict of $500,000. You could then turn around and sue the insurer for the $400,000 excess you had to pay as a result of its bad faith refusal to settle.

Whiteside v. GEICO Indemnity Company

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High-speed police chases make for exciting footage on local newscasts. They also pose a very real danger to the general public. When law enforcement officials make the decision to initiate or continue a chase, they must be mindful of other motorists on the road. If police recklessness leads to the injury or death of an innocent party, the government may be held accountable in court.

Wingler v. White

This is not to say that every personal injury claim arising from a police chase will be upheld in court. To the contrary, Georgia law sets strict limits on which such lawsuits may be heard. In order to get around the “sovereign immunity” of the state and its municipalities, Georgia courts have said that a victim must prove that his or her losses arose from the “negligent use” of a police vehicle where the officers “acted with reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures in pursuing a fleeing suspect.”

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Punitive damages are an extraordinary remedy available in only certain personal injury cases. Under Georgia law, a plaintiff can only seek punitive damages if the evidence shows the defendant’s actions demonstrated “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Since punitive damages are meant to deter outrageous conduct such as drunk driving, rather than compensate the victim for his or her injuries, it is not enough to prove simple or gross negligence on the part of the defendant.

Amoateng v. Nickerson

In the context of a car accident, a driver is considered negligent “per se”–i.e., as a matter of law–if he or she fails to follow the rules of the road. For example, if a driver runs a red light and hits another vehicle in the intersection, that is a case of negligence per se. This means the driver of the other car would be entitled to compensatory damages for his or her injuries.

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All Georgia motorists have a duty to obey the rules of the road and drive with care. Even when a driver does everything by the book, an accident may still occur due to someone else’s negligence or due to a public nuisance created by improper design or maintenance of the roadway. In the latter scenario, the local government responsible for operating the roadway may be liable for personal injuries sustained by an accident victim.

Mayor and Alderman of City of Savannah v. Herrera

Normally Georgia cities and municipalities are protected from civil lawsuits by sovereign immunity. The state legislature has waived this immunity in cases in which a local government fails to correct a known roadway defect. As explained by the Georgia Court of Appeals in a 2005 decision, “municipalities generally have a ministerial duty to keep their streets in repair, and they are liable for injuries resulting from defects after actual notice, or after the defect has existed for a sufficient length of time for notice to be inferred.” This includes defects arising from both man-made and natural causes.

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Following any kind of car accident, it is a good practice to notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Even if you do not think you will need to utilize your insurance coverage, many policies contain language requiring prompt notification. This means that if you fail to give notice–even if you did not initially believe it was necessary–your insurance company may later reject a claim for benefits under the policy.

Silva v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company

Georgia is an “at-fault” state when it comes to motor vehicle accident liability; that is to say, the negligent driver is responsible for any damages. However, your own insurance policy may still come into play if the negligent driver lacks sufficient insurance to pay for all of the damages, or in cases in which the driver is never identified, such as in a hit-and-run accident. By law, all Georgia insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist (UM) coverage to address such contingencies.

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Any Georgia business that opens its doors to the public must take care to keep its premises in reasonably safe condition. This is especially important when dealing with young children, who are more prone to accidents than adults. While it may not be possible to completely child-proof a business establishment in the same manner as a home, business proprietors must still strive to identify and eliminate obvious hazards that could seriously injure or kill an innocent child.

Holt v. Marriott International, Inc.

On November 15, two parents filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court alleging negligence on the part of multiple defendants in the tragic death of their 5-year-old son. The lead defendants own and operate a popular rotating restaurant in downtown Atlanta. One day this past April, the plaintiffs and their two small children, including the victim, had lunch at this restaurant, which is actually built on a platform that rotates around a stationary core, affording patrons a 360-degree view of Atlanta.