Author: Jeff

Recover punitive damages in Georgia (even without injuries)

Punitive Damages: Generally

If you’re involved in an car wreck and the conduct of the party who caused the collision was reckless and intentional, you may be entitled to punitive damages. The two most common examples of misconduct that warrant punitive damages are hit and run and drunk driving. Also, whether the offending party has a history of reckless driving is an important factor. The purpose of of punitive damages isn’t to make the injured party whole, but rather to send a forceful message to the offending party and the public that reckless driving won’t be tolerated. Probably everyone can agree that limiting reckless driving is a worthwhile undertaking.

O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b) provides that “[p]unitive damages may be awarded in such actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”  O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(c) further states that punitive damages “shall be awarded not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.”

Leaving the scene and driving under the influence are examples of of wilful misconduct, wantonness, and that want of care that shows conscious indifference to the consequences. According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f), in these situations, a jury is entitled to award the injured party unlimited punitive damages:

In a tort case in which the cause of action does not arise from product liability, if it is found that the defendant acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm . . . there shall be no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages . . .”

Punitive Damages: Property Damage Claims

In Georgia, punitive damages are recoverable in a property damage claim even if there are no injuries. Bowen v. Waters, 170 Ga. App. 65 (1984), aff’d, 175 Ga. App. 884 (1985) (“While an award of punitive damages is authorized only where a tortfeasor’s conduct is of an aggravated nature, such an award may properly be based upon an aggravated tort involving only property rights.”).

At Gomez & Golomb, unlike some others, we’re not a cookie cutter personal injury law firm. We devote our full attention to each case so that we maximize your recovery. If you’re in a collision, please call us to discuss whether your case is the type that might justify punitive damages, and what other damages you might be entitled to.

How to redeem a tax deed in Georgia

In Georgia, when real estate is sold at a tax sale, the taxpayer or any person having a right, title, interest in, or lien upon the property may buy it at any time within 12 months from the date of sale by paying the redemption price. The property may be redeemed at any time after the initial 12 months until the tax sale buyer forecloses (or terminates) the right to do so by giving proper notice.

To redeem a property following a tax sale, the redeeming party must pay the amount paid for the property at the tax sale, plus any taxes paid on the property by the purchaser after the sale for taxes, plus any special assessments on the property, plus a premium of 20 percent of the amount for the first year or fraction of a year which has elapsed between the date of the sale and the date on which the redemption payment is made and 10 percent for each year or fraction of a year thereafter.

After 12 months from the date of the tax sale, the purchaser can forever bar redemption of the property by giving notice to the delinquent taxpayer, the occupant, if any, and upon all persons having recorded any right, title, interest in, or lien on the property in the county where the land is located. The purchaser must write an original notice in accordance with Georgia law, and deliver this notice, together with a list of persons to be served, to the sheriff of the county in which the real estate is located. The notice must be delivered not less than 45 days before the date set in the notice for termination of the right of redemption.

Should a party seeking to redeem a property fail to assert its rights to redeem the property within the initial 12 month period or within the time allowed under the notice of right of foreclosure summarized above, the redeeming party’s interest in the property is forever cancelled.

Whether you’re buying a tax deed or seeking to redeem a tax deed, please call us to discuss your options.

Serving a Lawsuit in Georgia: Understanding the Sheriff’s Entry of Service Form

In Georgia, with some exceptions, the opposing party a/k/a the defendant must be “personally” served before a lawsuit can go forward. This means the lawsuit must be physically handed to the defendant. If the defendant is a corporation, service is made on the corporation’s registered agent. (Every corporation in Georgia is required to appoint a registered agent—this information can be found on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.)

Service usually begins by providing the sheriff a copy of the complaint, summons, and sheriff’s entry of service form. Service by the sheriff typically takes two to three weeks, during which time a sheriff’s deputy will complete the form and mail it back to the filing party. What does this form mean? Below is the relevant part of the form and how we address the various types of service in our office:

If the “personal” box is completed (box # 1 above), almost always, the sheriff has handed the paperwork to the opposing party and service is complete. Now we can get to work on the case.

If the “notorious” box is checked (box # 2 above)  this means the sheriff has handed the paperwork to someone over 18 years old who lives the opposing party. Georgia law allows notorious service, but, in our experience, we should be cautious in these situations because notorious service is sometimes unreliable and can challenged. Fortunately, an answer is due from the opposing party 30 days after service. If service isn’t contested in the answer, we no longer need to worry about service. If service is contested in the answer and seems reasonable, we will discuss with you the merits of repeating service. Ultimately, getting proper service is important because if we don’t have proper service, any judgment we obtain might be overturned.

The “corporation” box  (box # 3 above) obviously applies to serving a corporation. If this is checked, generally, this ends up being successful service.

If the “better address” box is checked (box # 5 above)  this means the person living at the address provided has told the sheriff that opposing party has moved.

Finally, the dreaded “non-est” box  box # 5 above): this means the sheriff has gone to the address provided but was unable to serve the defendant. Most importantly, this means the lawsuit can’t continue. At this point, we need to determine if we have a good address for the opposing party. A defendant can be served at home, work, church, etc. If we are confident we have a good address despite the sheriff being unsuccessful, we recommend hiring a private process server. Unlike the sheriff, a private process server will work with us and has a much better chance of successfully serving the defendant. The cost for a private process server is about $100, but goes up depending on difficulty. If we aren’t confident that we have a good address, we recommend hiring an investigator to find a good address for the defendant. This is more expensive and will cost $250 and upwards.

If we still can’t find the defendant or believe the defendant is avoiding service, we’re entitled to ask the court to allow us to serve the opposing party by publication. We’ll address service by publication in a separate blog.

We hope this gives you a better idea regarding service of a lawsuit in Georgia. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at 404-382-9994.

Foreclosure Confirmations: True Market Value Revisited

Conyers 138, LLC et al. v. ONH1, LLC, A17A0145, June 2, 2017, concerns the unique Georgia proceeding that allows foreclosures to be retroactively confirmed by petition in Superior Court. The purpose of a confirmation is to verify the property sold at foreclosure for the fair market value, thereby permitting the lender to sue the borrower to recover the difference between the loan amount and the amount at foreclosure. If the property sells for less than fair market value at the foreclosure, then the lender can’t pursue a deficiency claim against the borrower.

In Conyers 138, LLC, the lender’s appraiser testified the market value of the property was $2,510,000, but to arrive at the fair market value, he subtracted $765,000 for demolition because he contended the best use of the property was as raw, vacant land. The borrower argued that estimate of the demolition cost was inflated because the demolition company used a faulty methodology. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, stating disputes such as which methodology to apply are factual disputes best evaluated and decided by the trial judge. “The trial judge is the judge of credibility of the witnesses and of the weights to be given to the evidence.” (citations and punctuation omitted).

Since there was some evidence presented that supported the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals refused to disturb the trial court’s ruling. The takeaway is that the trial court has a lot of leeway and that it’s an uphill battle to successfully appeal a trial court’s decision in a foreclosure confirmation proceeding.