Articles Tagged with car accidents

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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.

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Uninsured motorist coverage extends the protection of your own automobile insurance to accidents caused by another party who lacks sufficient insurance to compensate you for any injuries. For example, let’s say a drunk driver hits you. You subsequently sue the driver and win $1,000,000 in damages from the jury. But the driver only has $25,000 in insurance and lacks any other assets to pay the remainder of the judgment. In this situation you could seek compensation under your own policy’s uninsured motorist coverage.

Coker v. American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company

The above example seems relatively straightforward. But what happens when there are multiple insurers who may be liable for the same accident? A federal appeals court in Atlanta recently addressed such a case.

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Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents. This is why “texting while driving” is illegal in Georgia and many other states. State law expressly forbids anyone from operating a motor vehicle “while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.”

Maynard v. McGee and Snapchat, Inc.

When distracted driving does lead to a car accident, the driver may face a personal injury lawsuit from the victims. A lawsuit recently filed in Spalding County, Georgia, raises the novel question of whether a social media company may also be liable for encouraging distracted driving by its users. The lawsuit, which is still in its early stages, has already sparked international media attention.

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Negligence exists under Georgia law whenever a person breaches a “legal duty to conform” to a specified legal standard, and as a result, another person suffers an injury or loss. In the context of a car accident, for example, a person may be negligent if he or she fails to follow the rules of the road, thereby causing an accident that injures another driver or damages their vehicle. Indeed, many personal injury cases come down to establishing which driver’s actions were responsible for the accident.

Newsome v. LinkAmerica Express, Inc.

In a recent case, a divided Georgia Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit arising from an accident where a car hit a parked tractor trailer. Both parties—the driver and the tractor trailer owner—claimed the other party’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. The trial court sided with the defendant, while a majority of the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff should at least be permitted to argue his case before a jury.

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Litigation is not uncommon following an auto accident. In many cases, the parties can still settle their dispute without the need for a full-blown jury trial. But before agreeing to any settlement, it is essential each party understands what rights they may be giving up. A settlement is a contract, which means there must be a “meeting of the minds” in order for the agreement to be enforceable.

Cone v. Dickenson

Recently the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed a dispute arising from just such a settlement agreement. The plaintiff and the defendant were in a car accident. The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging his negligence caused the accident.