Articles Tagged with personal injury

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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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When is a dog owner legally responsible for an attack that injures someone else? Georgia law states that anyone who “keeps a vicious or dangerous animal” is liable for “careless management” of said animal. The question then becomes, how do you know when a dog is vicious or dangerous?

Steagald v. Eason

In 2015, the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a personal injury lawsuit brought by the victim of a pitbull attack. The court said there was no evidence that the defendants, the pitbull’s owner, had specific knowledge their dog might commit an “unprovoked attack on a stranger coming into the yard.” The court brushed off evidence of the pitbull’s “snapping” and other prior aggressive behaviors as “not unusual” for a dog.

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Dog bites and animal attacks are scary experiences that can result in significant physical and mental injuries. Owners who fail to take responsibility for dangerous animals may be held liable in court. But victims may have difficulty recovering damages if they voluntarily assumed risk or had “equal knowledge” of the danger posed by a particular animal.

Gilreath v. Smith

Recently the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit brought by a woman injured in a rooster attack. The court upheld a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the rooster’s owner. The critical issue was the level of prior warning the victim received.

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In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal praised the work of Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS), whose employees are charged with protecting abused and neglected children. The governor singled out a case manager in Telfair County who saved an infant’s life. He also proposed a 19% wage increase for case managers throughout Georgia, noting that the state pays its child welfare workers less than every other state in the southeast aside from Louisiana.

Cowart v. Georgia Department of Human Services

Despite the governor’s support, not everyone is satisfied with the the work of the state’s case managers. In fact, the Department of Human Services, which oversees the DFCS, is currently facing a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of a child who died, allegedly after a case worker failed to follow up on serious abuse allegations. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial judge’s decision dismissing the case, citing the need for additional evidence on a key legal issue.

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The normal rule in Georgia personal injury lawsuits is that each party is responsible for its own attorney’s fees and costs. Of course, the Georgia legislature may alter this rule. One such exception is contained in a 2005 “tort reform” law that allows a defendant to recover attorney fees from a plaintiff under certain circumstances.

Richardson v. Locklyn

Specifically, if a defendant offers to settle a personal injury claim, the plaintiff rejects the offer, and the jury later returns a damage award that is “less than 75%” of the offer, the defendant is entitled to collect attorney fees. The judge may decline an award, however, if the defendant’s original offer “was not made in good faith.”

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Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers are responsible for patients who require ongoing medical care. When these facilities fail to follow proper protocols, the results can be fatal. Under Georgia law, any health care provider may be liable for wrongful death if there is a breach of duty that is the “proximate cause” of the patient’s demise.

Fields v. Taylor

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reinstated a wrongful death claim against a geriatrics doctor in Dublin. The lawsuit was brought by the daughter of a woman who died six years ago while under the defendant’s care at a rehabilitation center. The deceased had been admitted to the center temporarily while the daughter, her mother’s caregiver, was unavailable.

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In a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant may try to avoid responsibility by accusing the plaintiff of causing or contributing to his or her own injury. Georgia law refers to this as “contributory negligence.” The basic idea, according to a 2000 Georgia Court of Appeals decision, is that if a plaintiff’s own “failure to use ordinary care for his own safety is the sole proximate cause of his injuries,” then he cannot recover damages from a defendant, even if that defendant was negligent.

Miller v. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

More recently, the Court of Appeals considered the question of a plaintiff’s contributory negligence in a case in which he was unable to communicate his account of the underlying accident. This tragic case began in 2009, when the plaintiff, a man employed by an electrical subcontractor, was tasked with installing light fixtures in a building. This required re-routing certain wires through an electrical junction box on the building’s roof.

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In a premises liability case, Georgia law holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she had “equal or greater” knowledge of a hazard relative to the defendant. In other words, if you know there is a dangerous condition on someone else’s property and, in spite of that knowledge, you are injured, a judge may reject your personal injury lawsuit against the property owner.

Travis v. Quiktrip Corporation

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision illustrates how the question of a plaintiff’s “superior or equal” knowledge is dealt with in practice. The plaintiff was a tanker driver who delivered gasoline to a gas station owned and managed by the defendants. On the day in question, the plaintiff was making a delivery. The defendants required the plaintiff to manually measure the underground tank levels before and after each delivery. As the plaintiff later testified, he knew other drivers who had been “fired on the spot” for failing to follow this policy.

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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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Expert testimony is often a critical component of a personal injury case. Judges and jurors are not technical experts and often require assistance in understanding evidence. When it comes to “simple negligence,” though, expert testimony is generally unnecessary. A jury does not need help when common sense is sufficient to weigh the evidence and reach a logical conclusion.

Gardner v. Clark

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed a tragic case in which a trial judge improperly demanded expert testimony where none was necessary. The plaintiffs in this case were the children of a woman who died in November 2009. The mother lived in a mobile home that she rented from the defendant.