Articles Tagged with damages

If you are injured in an auto accident, you naturally assume that your insurance policy will help cover your damages. As with any contract, you need to carefully review and understand the terms of your policy. You may need to comply with a number of conditions before the insurer is legally obligated to provide you with coverage. Your failure to comply can–and will–be strictly held against you by the courts.

Geico General Insurance Company v. Breffle

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Geico General Insurance Company v. Breffle, provides a cautionary example. This case involves an insured driver (the plaintiff) who was injured in an April 2016 auto accident with another vehicle. The plaintiff sought medical treatment for his injuries a few days after the accident. In December 2016, about eight months after the accident, the plaintiff underwent a surgical procedure as part of his treatment. Later, in March 2017, the plaintiff’s doctors advised him that he would need a second surgery.

There are two broad components to any personal injury lawsuit. The first component is establishing the defendant was negligent and violated some legal duty owed to the plaintiff. The second component is actually proving the damages sustained by the plaintiff as a result of this negligence.

When it comes to damages, a plaintiff needs to be as specific as possible, especially with respect to damages that can be calculated to some degree of certainty. You cannot simply show up in court and ask a judge or jury to “use common sense” in figuring out what the defendant owes you. To put it another way, you cannot ask the court to engage in speculation to decide your damages.

Perez v. Bowman

In many successful personal injury cases, the defendant’s insurance company ends up paying most of the judgment. You might therefore think it would “save a step” just to sue the insurance company directly. In most cases, such “direct action” is not permitted under Georgia law. The legal theory behind this is that an insurance policy is a contract between the insurer and the insured, and the injured person is a third party who is not “privy” to this agreement.

However, Georgia law makes an exception to the prohibition on “direct action” when the insured party is a “motor carrier.” That is to say, if you are injured in an accident caused by a motor carrier, you may file directly sue both the carrier and its insurance company for damages.

Mitchell v. Dixie Transport, Inc.

Personal injury claims are not always about car accidents or even physical injuries. Negligence can affect victims in many other ways, such as forcing them to incur a financial loss or depriving them of some other intrinsic right. That said, a plaintiff can only recover damages when the negligence was rooted in some legal duty owed him or her by the defendant.

Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell

For example, the Supreme Court of Georgia recently issued an opinion, Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell addressing the question of whether state officials owe a legal duty to protect the personal information of individuals from unauthorized disclosure. The background for this case was a 2013 incident in which an employee of the Georgia Department of Labor accidentally emailed a spreadsheet containing the personal information of over 4,700 residents of Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton Counties to approximately 1,000 recipients.

In personal injury cases you often hear about damages for “pain and suffering.” This includes mental as well as physical pain. While there is obviously no precise way to quantify such non-economic injuries, there are certain legal guidelines judges and juries must follow when determining such awards.

Warnock v. Sandford

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this subject. In Warnock v. Sandford, a jury awarded nearly $11 million in damages to an auto accident victim for his physical and mental pain and suffering. The defendant appealed, alleging the judge improperly instructed the jury as to the law.

Following a car accident, you may receive certain benefits from your own insurance company. If you later end up suing a negligent third party for damages related to the accident, your insurer may have the right to recover part of any money you receive from the case. To put it another way, you may not be allowed to recover twice for the same injury–once from your insurance company, and then again from the negligent driver in court.

Appling v. State Farm Fire and Casualty

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision, Appling v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, offers a helpful example. In 2013, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident. The other driver’s insurance company agreed to settle with the plaintiff for the limits of the policy, which was $25,000. As this was not enough to compensate the plaintiff for his total injuries, he then filed a claim with his own uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) carrier, which was State Farm.

An accident often leaves more than physical injuries. The victims also suffer emotional trauma that may persist for weeks, months, and even years after the accident itself. For this reason, Georgia law does recognize a variety of claims for emotional damages arising from an accident caused by a third party’s negligence.

Malibu Boats, LLC v. Batchelder

Just how far can such claims go? That is a question the Georgia Court of Appeals recently confronted in Malibu Boats, LLC v. Batchelder, a personal injury case arising from a 2014 boating accident in Rabun County, Georgia. The plaintiffs–a family including two adults and four children–took out a boat manufactured by the defendant onto Lake Burton.

An often under-appreciated category of damages in personal injury cases is the victim’s loss of future earnings. Also referred to as “diminished earning capacity,” this basically covers the amount of money the victim would have earned during the remainder of his or her lifetime but-for the injury caused by the negligent defendant. Obviously, loss of future earnings will vary depending on the victim. In some cases, it may not be possible to calculate these damages without the assistance of expert witnesses.

Lee v. Smith

Consider this recent case from the Georgia Court of Appeals. The underlying lawsuit involves a car accident. The plaintiff alleged the defendant’s negligence caused the accident. The defendant conceded liability but contested the amount of damages.

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

An often overlooked element of many personal injury cases is the emotional harm sustained by the victim. Georgia courts have long recognized “negligent infliction of emotional distress” as a tort, but recovery is generally limited to cases in which the emotional distress is connected to a “physical impact.” In other words, if you are physically hurt in a car accident, you can sue the negligent driver for your emotional trauma, but you cannot seek damages for purely emotional scarring, i.e. watching a loved one die in an accident.

Coon v. Medical Center, Inc.

In 2000, the Georgia Supreme Court made an exception to the “physical impact rule,” holding that when a parent and child are both physically injured in the same accident, the parent can seek damages for the emotional distress caused by watching the child “suffer and die.” Recently, the state Supreme Court declined to extend this exception to another case in which a mother suffered emotional harm after watching a hospital mishandle the remains of her daughter.

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