Author: Jeff

Negligence law in Georgia

What is negligence law? At Gomez & Golomb LLC, we believe negligence law follows the golden rule, which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Let’s explain.

To us, negligence is much more than a slick attorney holding a check in a TV commercial or on a billboard. In fact, we doubt those type of attorneys think much beyond making money for themselves.  At Gomez & Golomb LLC, we see our job as making sure our clients are fairly compensated for legitimate injuries sustained because another person or entity failed to act responsibly.

The personal injury cases we handle at Gomez & Golomb LLC all involve negligence. This means the responsible party or entity didn’t intend to harm our clients. Rather,  the responsible party or entity didn’t pay close enough attention to the road, designed a product without enough attention to safety, or provided medical treatment that wasn’t as good as it should have been.

So, what is negligence and why do we all benefit from this system? Long ago, the first laws developed to discourage citizens from intentionally harming each other. Under this system, when someone intentionally harms another, the state prosecutes the responsible person. If found guilty, the state puts the person in jail.

But what about when someone unintentionally harms another? We agreed that it would be unfair to put someone in jail for conduct that lacked intent, but we also agreed that it would be unfair if there were no consequences. As a middle ground, we created a system in which a negligent party wasn’t prosecuted or jailed, but was liable for the monetary damages caused to the harmed party. In other words, we agreed that we are all obligated to act in a manner consistent with that of an ordinarily prudent and reasonable person. Georgia has laws that confirm this principle. See O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2.

In our view, we’re much better off when someone who intentionally harms another is put in jail and someone who unintentionally harms another pays damages. While not everyone agrees with this system, and there is no doubt abuse, the alternative is a society without incentive to act responsibly and without incentive to treat each other as each of us would like to be treated.

Venue in a Trucking Case

In a recent dispute over where a wrongful death lawsuit should be tried, the plaintiff made the winning argument against a commercial trucking company. Natasha Blakemore as Mother of Natroya Hulbert v. Dirt Movers, Inc. et al., A17A1540 (January 11, 2018). The plaintiff argued that the case should be tried in the county where the injury took place, while the trucking company argued it had the right to remove the case to the county where its office was located.

The two statutes at issue were O.C.G.A. §§ 40-1-117(b) and 14-2-510(b)(4). O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b) is part of the Georgia Motor Carrier Act, which are the statutes that govern commercial motor carriers. That statute says an injured party who sues a motor carrier can bring the case in the county where the injury occurred regardless of where the motor carrier is located. In contrast, O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(5), which governs corporations, says that, regardless of where the injuries occurred, a corporation is entitled to have the case adjudicated in the county where it maintains its principal place of business.

Here, Dirt Movers, Inc. argued that O.C.G.A. § 14-2-510(b)(5) should apply even if venue was proper under O.C.G.A. § 40-1-117(b). The Court of Appeals disagreed. Holding that if venue was proper under both O.C.G.A. §§ 40-1-117(b) and 14-2-510(b)(4), which was true here, the plaintiff was entitled to bring her lawsuit in the county where the injuries occurred.

Nice try by the trucking company, but the case will go forward in the county where the injuries occurred.

Interesting Homeowners’ Association Dispute

For Georgia real estate litigation nerds, a recent case issued by the Georgia Court of Appeals provides interesting reading. The case, Great Water Lanier, LLC v. Summer Crest at Four Seasons on Lanier Homeowners Association, Inc., A17A1810 (January 2, 2018), involves a convoluted dispute between an investor and a homeowners’ association (HOA). At issue were whether a property was subject to an HOA. The owner of the property asked a court in Hall County to find that the parcel was not subject to the HOA, while the HOA requested the opposite and asked that the property owner pay HOA dues.

The Court of Appeals recited well-settled Georgia law that a person that purchases property is bound by terms in the deed that conveys the property (whether the buyer likes it or not).

The warranty deed in question referred to the HOA, but did so in an arguably ambiguous way. In addition, there were documents signed by the parties that showed the property was not intended to be a part of the HOA. After applying the rules of contract construction to the warranty deed, the Court of Appeals determined the language was not ambiguous, and therefore the language referencing the HOA in the warranty deed controlled over any other documents.

The takeaway is to carefully examine the warranty deed and all other documents when purchasing property.

Medical Malpractice Affidavits

Sworn affidavit from another doctor required in Georgia

To make sure a lawsuit against a doctor has merit, an injured party must provide an affidavit from an impartial doctor (i.e., an expert doctor) confirming the alleged malpractice of the treating doctor.  Georgia courts have stated that the purpose of this requirement is to “reduce the number of frivolous malpractice suits being filed.” Oller v. Rockdale Hosp., A17A1208 (decided August 14, 2017). From an injured party’s perspective, meeting this requirement isn’t easy. First, getting a doctor to review a case is very expensive. Second, this process requires a doctor to stand in judgment of another doctor, which understandably isn’t something most doctors want to do.

If an expert doctor reviews the facts and medical records, and agrees to sign a malpractice affidavit, the story isn’t over. The affidavit has to be carefully drafted because the courts have dismissed a number of medical malpractice claims due to inadequate affidavits. To overcome a challenge to a medical malpractice affidavit, the expert doctor must allege the following:

  • that the treating doctor failed to satisfy the standard of care for doctors treating a patient under similar conditions and like surrounding circumstances; and
  • that the expert doctor has knowledge and experience in the practice or speciality that is relevant to the acts or omissions alleged against the treating doctor (importantly, a medical doctor does not have to practice in same specialty as defendant medical doctor to be qualified to submit expert affidavit).

Meeting these requirements is a prerequisite for filing a valid lawsuit against a doctor and is a critical part of recovering damages against a doctor in Georgia. Please call us for a free consultation if you been injured due to the negligence of a doctor–we’ll be happy to review your options and discuss how we can help get your claim resolved.

Attorney’s Fees in Georgia: Part One

Part 1: Contractual Attorney’s Fees

Virtually without fail, one of the first things our clients ask is whether they’ll be able to recover attorney’s fees from the other side. This is a fair question because it seems wrong to have pay an attorney when the other side has acted improperly or has caused the dispute. While not necessarily intuitive, the default rule, with exceptions, is that each side is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. We’re going to discuss some of the statutes and cases contrary to the default rule–these laws allow the winner of a lawsuit to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.

The most clear cut situation in which the winning party can recover attorney’s fees is when parties have signed a contract that provides for the recovery of  attorney’s fees. For example, a typical provision in a contract might say that “the prevailing party is entitled to attorney’s fees incurred to enforce or collect monies due under the contract.” In these situations, a trial court doesn’t have the authority to alter such an arrangement unless it is prohibited by statute, and the winning party is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees as a matter of law.

Contractual attorney’s fees were discussed by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Summit At Scarborough Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Williams, A17A1289 (decided November, 16, 2017). In that case, the trial court’s decision to deny a homeowner’s association attorney’s fees related to unpaid association dues was reversed because the association documents, which are considered a contract, provided for the collection of attorney’s fees. Thus, in cases where a contract provides for attorney’s fees, the trial court must award attorney’s fees based upon evidence of the reasonable value of the professional services provided by the attorney.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss what happens when there’s no contractual provision for attorney’s fees, but the opposing party has acted in bad faith.