Articles Tagged with liability

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There are a number of situations in which an individual or business may be held liable for a personal injury caused by someone else. Two of the more common ones involve the legal concepts of respondeat superior and premises liability. The first, respondeat superior, refers to cases in which an employee commits a tort in the course of carrying out the employer’s business. The second, premises liability, means a property owner had superior knowledge of a safety hazard that caused an injury to a person lawfully on the premises.

Manners v. 5 Star Lodge and Stables, LLC

Neither of these rules means a business is automatically liable for an accident just because it involves one of its employees or occurs on its land. Here is an example taken from a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision. In this case, a woman was accidentally shot while on the premises of a lodge. The Court of Appeals, upholding an earlier ruling by a trial judge, held that the lodge was not legally responsible for the plaintiff’s shooting or injuries.

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Although you might think negligence is a matter of “common sense,” the law is often not so simple. There are many situations in which a defendant who you might assume is negligent can still avoid liability due to a particular state law. Such exceptions unfortunately may leave victims with little or no recourse to seek damages.

Patton v. Cumberland Corporation

A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates how one of these special legal exceptions work in practice. This case involves a single-vehicle truck accident. The plaintiff was riding in a truck with another man when it hit a fallen power cable. Although the driver tried to avoid the cable, the wire “caught the rear of the truck, lifting it 18 inches or more off the ground,” according to court records.

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Although personal injury and wrongful death claims are often brought up in the context of negligence–i.e., unintentional but reckless acts–there are situations in which the victim is injured or killed through an intentional criminal act. In such situations, the victim or his or her family can definitely seek damages against the criminal.

What about local law enforcement and private entities that were charged with protecting the public from a particular criminal? Can they also be held liable?

SecureAlert, Inc. v. Boggs

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Everyone recognizes that teachers have a difficult job. We also trust teachers with the education and well-being of our children. So, when the worst happens and a child dies while in a teacher’s custody, grieving parents will understandably seek accountability and justice through the courts.

Barnett v. Caldwell

Unfortunately, when it comes to teachers employed by public schools, the legal system makes such accountability difficult. Although the Georgia Constitution states that a state employee may be personally liable for “negligent failure to perform” a “ministerial” function, they are generally immune from lawsuits arising from discretionary acts. In non-legal terms, if the law mandates a state employee do something, then he or she can be sued for negligently failing to do so. If the employee has discretion to do something, however, then he or she cannot be sued if that decision caused injury to a third party, unless the victim can prove that the employee acted with “actual malice” or “actual intent to cause injury.”

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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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Many personal injury claims involve more than one defendant or negligent party. Historically, if a Georgia court found multiple defendants liable for an accident, all of the defendants could be held collectively responsible for any monetary judgment. This is known as “joint and several liability.” But in 2005, the Georgia legislature amended the state’s tort laws to require a jury (or judge) “apportion its award of damages among the persons who are liable according to the percentage of fault of each person.”

Renaissance Recovery Solutions, LLC. v. Monroe Guaranty Insurance Company

This amendment has largely–but not completely–eliminated joint and several liability in Georgia. In fact, a federal judge in Augusta recently addressed a case in which a state court previously, and apparently erroneously, issued a joint and several liability verdict.

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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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Teenage suicide is a serious public health problem in Georgia. According to the Jason Foundation, a leading suicide prevention organization, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18.” Suicide kills more teenagers every year than cancer, heart disease, and birth defects combined.

City of Richmond Hill v. Maia

When a parent loses a child to suicide, he or she understandably wants to know why it happened. In some cases, the suicide may have been provoked by the reckless or negligent act of a third party. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently clarified the circumstances where such third parties may be liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a deceased child.

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Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a $7 million advertising campaign to warn drivers about the dangers of railroad crossings. The DOT noted that while the total number of railroad incidents have been in decline over the past decade, a person or vehicle is still hit by a train roughly every three hours. In 2016, there were 232 reported deaths due to railroad crossing accidents.

Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.

Recently the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta dealt with a personal injury lawsuit arising from a 2011 railroad crossing accident. The victim was severely injured when a train struck her. She claimed she could not see te approaching train due to “overgrown and improperly maintained vegetation at the railroad crossing.”

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Property owners are liable for injuries caused by their failure to correct or repair dangerous conditions. But what if the owner has rented or leased the property to someone else? Under Georgia law, an owner who has “fully parted with possession” (i.e., a landlord) is not liable for injuries sustained by third parties on the premises.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, the landlord is liable if the injury was the result of “defective construction.” Additionally, the landlord is responsible for his or her own “failure to keep the premises in repair.”

Aldredge v. Byrd, et al.