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Class actions allow multiple individuals who suffered a common personal injury to file a single lawsuit against a defendant or group of defendants. Typically, the plaintiffs who file the class action decide whether or not to bring their case in state or federal court. But in some cases, the defendants may force the “removal” of a class action from state to federal court.

A 2005 law, the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), permits defendants to do this. CAFA provides for removal when there are more than 100 plaintiffs in the class, the amount they seek is more than $5 million, and at least one plaintiff is a resident of a different state than at least one of the defendants. However, removal is not allowed when the class action arises from “an event or occurrence in the State in which the action was filed, and that allegedly resulted in injuries in that State or in States contiguous to that State.”

Spencer v. Specialty Foundry Products Inc.

In July 2019, a woman from Lawrenceville attended her son’s football practice at a local field. The woman walked by the field’s bleachers when she slipped and fell on an uncovered drain. She suffered injuries as a result of this fall and subsequently sued Gwinnett County, which operated the field, and a number of related parties, mostly unidentified county employees. The now-plaintiff alleged that the County’s failure to properly maintain or repair the drain caused her accident.

Gwinnett County, GA, v. Ashby

Gwinnett County promptly moved to dismiss the lawsuit. It cited the longstanding legal principle of “sovereign immunity,” which holds that a person cannot sue the state or any of its subdivisions–such as a county–unless their claims are expressly authorized by the Georgia General Assembly. The County insisted that no such legislative waiver of sovereign immunity applied to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In response, the plaintiff cited a state law known as the Recreational Property Act (RPA).

In the 1990s, the General Assembly adopted the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (GSGTPA). This law gives prosecutors and local governments powerful tools to address “criminal gang activity” in their jurisdictions. The Act also permits victims of gang violence to file personal injury lawsuits for triple damages. The law does not specify the particular types of lawsuits that can be filed, or even who the possible defendants must be, only that the “finder of fact”–i.e., a jury–must first decide if the plaintiff’s action is “consistent with the intent of the General Assembly” when it adopted the GSGTPA.

Star Residential, LLC v. Hernandez

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the application of the GSGTPA to a personal injury lawsuit, Star Residential, LLC v. Hernandez, brought by a man against the owner and operator of his apartment complex. Specifically, the plaintiff said he was “shot from behind in an unprovoked attack and robbery” committed by three unidentified men. The plaintiff was paralyzed as a result of his gunshot injuries.

As you probably know, if you are injured on the job, your employer must pay you certain medical and wage replacement benefits under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law. Indeed, workers’ compensation provides what is considered an “exclusive remedy” in these situations. That is to say, you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer so long as it complies with the workers’ compensation law.

The exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation does not apply to potential claims against third parties. For example, if you are driving a company-owned truck on a delivery and get hit by a drunk driver, workers’ compensation does not prevent you from suing that driver. Of course, if you do successfully pursue a personal injury claim against the drunk driver, then your employer may seek to recoup some of the workers’ compensation benefits previously paid to you.

Sprowson v. Villalobos

When you are injured in an accident caused by another driver, you may be entitled to benefits from your own insurer if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage. Essentially, UM coverage means your insurance company “steps into the shoes” of the negligent driver, who is either an unknown person, lacks insurance altogether, or has coverage that does not fully compensate you for your injuries.

Under Georgia law, an auto insurer must provide UM coverage by default. The insured party is free to reject this coverage in writing. Before 2001, state law only required UM coverage at certain minimum level, although the insured could ask for a higher limit in writing. The General Assembly subsequently amended the UM coverage rules in 2001 and 2008. The 2001 amendment said an insurance company had to offer minimum UM coverage of either $25,000 per person (or $50,000 per accident) or an amount “equal to the liability coverage in the insured’s underlying policy.” In other words, if you purchased more than $25,000/$50,000 in coverage for your regular policy, then by default your insurer would offer you the same amount in UM coverage. If you wished to purchase less in UM coverage, you could do so in writing.

UM coverage under the 2001 rules were known as “reduced by” policies. This meant that the amount of UM coverage you could receive from your insurer was reduced by whatever money you received from the negligent driver’s insurance company. In 2008, the General Assembly amended the law to change the default UM policy from “reduced by” to “added on.” Under this new default, you are entitled to the full amount of UM coverage for any damages that exceed the negligent driver’s policy limits. Again, you can elect to go back to the prior “reduced by” standard, which many drivers do because it has a lower premium.

As a general rule, you cannot directly sue an insurance company for a personal injury caused by someone they insure. In other words, if you are in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, you cannot name that driver’s insurance company as a defendant. Such “direct action” is not permitted under Georgia law.

Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams

But there are exceptions. Georgia law includes two separate provisions that permit direct action against insurance companies that insure motor carriers, i.e. semi-trucks. In a recent decision, Daily Underwriters of America v. Williams, the Georgia Court of Appeals explained how these two provisions can be applied in practice.

In October 2014, a man from McDonough, Georgia, died after his Suzuki motorcycle collided with a Toyota Prius. According to a report from the Henry Herald at the time, the man “was traveling east on Campground Road and the Prius was traveling north on Palmer Road.” The Prius then pulled out onto Campground Road and was “hit by the Suzuki.” At the time, police attributed the accident to “speed and reckless driving” on the part of the motorcyclist.

Clack v. Hasnat

The family of the motorcyclist subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and owners of the Prius. The case was tried before a jury, which returned a verdict for the defense. The family then unsuccessfully moved for a new trial.

Is a parent automatically liable for a car accident caused by their minor child? Not under Georgia law. That said, there is an exception known as the “family purpose doctrine.” The doctrine dates back to a 1915 case, where the Georgia Supreme Court said:

If a father or mother, owning an automobile, and keeping it to be used for the comfort and pleasure of the family, should authorize a son to drive it for the comfort or pleasure of the family, this would make the owner liable for the negligence of the son operating the machine for such purpose.

The General Assembly later codified a form of the family purpose doctrine, which states a person is “liable for torts committed by … his child … by his his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business.” The Supreme Court further in a 2000 case that there are four preconditions to applying the doctrine:

“Sovereign immunity” is the legal concept that the state itself cannot be sued without its consent. In Georgia, sovereign immunity applies to all state departments and agencies, unless the General Assembly adopts an explicit waiver. One such waiver is the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), which does permit victims to file personal injury claims against the state under specific circumstances.

Georgia Department of Transportation v. Thompson

There are exceptions to the exception. A person cannot sue under the GTCA, for instance, if their claim involves a state agency’s or state employee’s “failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty.” That is to say, you can sue the state if it fails to follow its own policies and you are injured, but you cannot sue based on the state’s failure to exercise discretionary authority. There is a similar “design exception,” which protects the state from lawsuits arising from the decisions it makes in the planning, design, or construction of public highways.

In Georgia, there is normally a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. So for instance, if you were injured in a car accident that took place on March 1, 2018, you would have until March 1, 2020, to sue the negligent driver. If you tried to sue after the statute of limitations expired, a court would be required to dismiss your case, regardless of the merits.

Now, Georgia law also “tolls” or stops the two-year clock when the personal injury claim arises from a criminal act (as opposed to mere negligence). This tolling period lasts from the date of the criminal act “until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated.” However, this tolling period typically cannot exceed six years.

Department of Public Safety v. Ragsdale

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