Articles Tagged with car accidents

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Many Georgia residents take out umbrella policies to provide liability coverage above  and beyond their standard auto insurance. Umbrella policies are especially beneficial to victims who sustain financial losses in excess of the normal car insurance policy. For example, if your injuries following a car accident cost you $500,000 in lost wages and medical expenses, and the other driver’s policy only has a $250,000 limit, an umbrella policy can make up that difference.

Government Employees Insurance Company v. Gordon

Of course, that assumes that the company that issued the umbrella policy does not attempt to disclaim coverage. As we know all too well, insurers will never hesitate to try and avoid paying when they can. Here is a recent federal case involving the application of Georgia law in which a court addressed an insurance company’s attempt to avoid its obligations.

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One of the recurring questions that arise in personal injury cases is determining who is covered by an auto insurance policy. Since most claims are paid via some form of insurance, whether it is that of the negligent driver or the victim’s own uninsured motorist coverage, it is critical to ascertain from the outset who is and is not covered. Rest assured, the insurance company will make every effort to deny coverage if it has a plausible legal reason to do so.

Stanley v. Government Employees Insurance Company

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed an interesting variant of our recurring question: Does an uninsured motorist (UM) policy cover the fianceé (or common law spouse) of a named insured? The plaintiff in this personal injury case was driving a vehicle owned by his employer when he was the victim of a head-on collision with another driver. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries and sued the other driver for negligence.

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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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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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It is a well-established principle of Georgia personal injury law that an employer can be held legally responsible for the negligent acts of its employees. In other words, if you are injured in a car accident because a delivery van ran a red light, you can sue the company that owns the delivery van for damages. This is known as “vicarious liability.”

What happens when a teenager drives his or her parents’ car and causes an accident? Vicarious liability can also apply in these cases under a rule known as the “family purpose doctrine.” As explained by the Georgia courts, the doctrine holds that “the owner of an automobile who permits members of his household to drive it for their own pleasure or convenience is regarded as making such a family purpose his ‘business.’” So, by letting your child use your car, you are creating a “master-servant” relationship similar to when an employer authorizes an employee to use a company-owned vehicle.

Doby v. Bivins

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Many Georgia residents take out “umbrella” policies to provide extra insurance protection in the event of an accident. An umbrella policy provides liability coverage above and beyond standard homeowners or automobile insurance. For example, let’s say your auto insurance policy provides $25,000 in coverage for bodily injury. You get into an accident and the other driver sues you for damages. The court awards the driver $100,000, which obviously exceeds your policy limit. At this point, if you have an umbrella policy, which typically provides coverage in the millions of dollars, it would cover the rest of the judgment.

Massey v. Allstate Insurance Company

You can also purchase an umbrella policy for uninsured motorist coverage. This refers to insurance that pays for injuries that you sustain in an accident caused by another driver who either has no insurance or lacks sufficient coverage to pay for your total damages. Georgia law requires all insurers to offer uninsured motorist coverage of at least $25,000 for bodily injury to a single person (or $50,000 for multiple people injured in the same accident). The customer has the option of rejecting UM coverage, but it must be offered.

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If a reckless driver injures someone in a car accident, the driver may not be the only person liable for damages. If the driver was operating a vehicle owned by his or her employer, the employer may be vicariously liable for the victim’s injuries. If the employer had the vehicle insured, the insurance company may bear the ultimate financial responsibility.

Great American Alliance Insurance Co. v. Anderson

Of course, insurance companies often will not pay out without a fight. With respect to automobile insurance, policies often exclude coverage for employer-owned vehicles that are not used with the employer’s permission. What precisely constitutes “permission” can be difficult to determine.

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As a general rule, a driver is considered negligent, and therefore responsible for a car accident, if he or she disregards traffic signs. For example, if a driver speeds through a red light and hits another vehicle, he or she is liable for any damages sustained by the other driver. In some car accident cases, however, it may not be immediately apparent whether a driver was reckless in failing to obey traffic signs.

Richards v. Robinson

Here is an illustration from a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision. This case involves a two-car accident that occurred in Gwinnett County. The defendant was driving a school bus in the far-right eastbound lane of Five Forks Trickhum Road, which intersects the Ronald Reagan Parkway. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle on the eastbound land of Five Forks Trickhum Road.

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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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Insurance policies frequently cover any damages incurred due to a car accident. But it is not unusual in Georgia for insurance companies to disclaim or otherwise reject coverage if the insured does not strictly comply with all terms of the policy. In some cases, insurance companies may end up fighting among themselves over who is liable for any damages arising from a personal injury claim.

Selective Insurance Company of America v. Russell

A federal judge in Gainesville recently addressed such a case. This is one of two lawsuits arising from a 2011 car accident. Two vehicles collided, resulting in the death of a passenger in one of the cars. The driver of Car A and the estate of the deceased passenger sued the driver of Car B in Georgia state court.