Two other students were seriously injured in the wreck that followed Georgia’s celebration of back-to-back national football championships. Investigators believe that speed was a factor in this wreck.
The single-vehicle crash happened near the intersection of Stroud Road and Barnett Shoals Road in Athens. A 20-year-old offensive lineman and 24-year-old recruiting staffer died in that wreck. In a statement, UGA acknowledged that it owned the 2021 Ford Expedition, but denied responsibility for the crash.
“The car driven in the accident was one of several vehicles leased by our athletic department for use during recruiting activities only. Policies and expectations that were well understood by athletics staff dictated that such rental vehicles were to be turned in at the immediate conclusion of recruiting duties,” the University said in a statement. “Personal use was strictly prohibited. Therefore, the continued use of the leased car by our staff members after their recruiting duties ended earlier that evening was unauthorized.”
“We are continuing to cooperate fully with investigators. Above all, our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of those we lost and those who were injured in this tragic accident,” the statement concluded.
Speed as a Factor in Car Crashes
Excessive velocity increases the risk of a wreck and the force in a crash. So, it is no wonder that speed is a factor in about a third of fatal car crashes in Georgia.
As for the risk of a wreck, speed multiplies stopping distance. It only takes a split second for a driver to see a hazard, move their foot to the brake pedal, apply the brakes, and stop the vehicle. That’s especially true since today’s vehicles have advanced brakes and tires that don’t lock or slip in these situations.
In these few brief moments, a car traveling 30mph moves an additional six car lengths. At 60mph, the stopping distance doubles to 18 car lengths. Other factors, like driver fitness and vehicle weight, increase stopping distance.
Furthermore, speeding vehicles are harder to control around curves. Many drivers oversteer into corners and curves. Then, they overcorrect to regain control of their vehicles. This overcorrection has the opposite effect. These drivers completely lose control of their vehicles, often running off the road or careening into a wall or another vehicle.
Additionally, speed increases the force in a wreck. Once again, speed multiplies the force, according to Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Gravity. In simple terms, speed transforms a non-injury fender-bender wreck into a serious injury crash that often kills one or more people.
Vicarious Liability in Georgia
The University has tried very hard to deny liability for these deaths. These efforts might hold up in criminal court. However, a Marietta personal injury attorney could still hold the institution responsible for damages under one of two vicarious liability theories.
Georgia has an imputed negligence law. The law transfers a driver’s negligence to the vehicle’s owner if the owner could influence or control the driver’s conduct. It does not matter if the driver had the authority to use the vehicle or not.
Note that liability attaches if the owner “could” influence or control driver behavior, not if it “did” influence or control that behavior. The University could have easily put additional rules into effect, like additional safety class requirements, occupancy limits (the more people there are in a car, the more distracted the driver becomes), and chemical tests before a person gets the keys.
This possibility is a fact question for the jury. A Marietta personal injury attorney must prove this point by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.
Respondeat superior employer liability is another possibility. The recruiting staffer was definitely a school employee. Was she using the car in the course and scope of her employment, which is the other major respondeat superior prong? Once again, that is a fact question that, at this point, is unresolved.