Author: Jeff

Suing A Parent of a Child Who Causes Motor Vehicle Collision

In Georgia, what happens if you help your adult child by co-signing on a car note and by getting automobile insurance for your child, and your child causes a collision that injures another driver? This was the issue in a recent case decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals: Yim v. Carr, A19A0715 (April 23, 2019). In Yim, the Court decided in favor of the parents who had been sued by the driver injured by their child.

Generally, parents are liable for injuries caused by a child if the child was doing something for the parents or for the family at the time the incident occurred. This is called the “family purpose doctrine.”  To establish that a parent is responsible for their child, the following must be found present: (1) the owner of the vehicle (the parent) must have given permission to a family member to drive the vehicle; (2) the vehicle’s owner (the parent) must have relinquished control of the vehicle to the family member; (3) the family member must be in the vehicle; and (4) the vehicle must be engaged in a family purpose.

In Yim, although the vehicle was registered in parents’ name and driven by a family member, that wasn’t enough because the facts showed that the adult child had authority and control over the vehicle. Thus, title to the vehicle (which was in the parents’ names) or payment for the expenses of operation (which were being made by the parents) aren’t the deciding factors.

If you are injured by a minor driving their parents’ vehicle, please call us to discuss your options to make claims against both the driver and the parents.

Does a Foreclosure Sale Determine Fair Market Value in Georgia?

The answer is a resounding yes according to an interesting case that came out recently. SeeDekalb County Board Of Tax Assessors v. Astor Atl, LLC, A19A0516 (April 1, 2019). In that case, the Georgia Court of Appeals rejected DeKalb County’s argument that it could assess property taxes in an amount higher than the price paid for the same property at a foreclosure sale.

Dekalb County argued that a foreclosure sale does not qualify under as an arm’s length, bona fide sale, and that it had appraised the property in conformity with its rules using the sales comparison approach.

In deciding the case, the Georgia Court of Appeals referenced O.C.G.A. § 48-5-2(3), which provides a limitation on the maximum allowable fair market value. Under that statute, “the transaction amount of the most recent arm’s length, bona fide sale in any year shall be the maximum allowable fair market value for the next taxable year.”

The decision concluded by holding that foreclosure sales can be arm’s length, bona fide sales. Moreover, the fact that the sale may not bring in the true market value of the property does not require a different rule; the fact that the sale results in a financial loss is not relevant.

The court noted that foreclosure sales are distinct from tax sales. While foreclosures are considered arm’s length, bona fide sales, tax sales are considered “forced sales” because owner retains a right of redemption, so the tax deed purchaser does not obtain proper title until the redemption period has run.

While this isn’t super helpful in the current market with surging property values, it would definitely help investors should the real estate market turn south down the road. Something to keep in mind.

Please call us at 404-382-9994 for real estate related questions.

Georgia Personal Injury: Smoke Detectors and Causation

In Georgia, if you’re injured due to someone else’s negligence, you can sue the party who caused your injuries. These cases are generally filed in the county where the party that caused the injuries resides, and are decided by what are known as trial courts. In the trial court, the parties collect evidence related to the cause and extent of the injuries. After the evidence is collected (this happens during “discovery”), the parties present this evidence to a jury, who decides who the outcome of the case.

The right to a jury trial, i.e., having the right to present disputes to randomly selected members of your community, is one of the founding principles of this country. In Georgia, Article I, Para. 6 of the Georgia Constitution and O.C.G.A. § 9-11-38 guarantee the right to a jury trial.

There is an exception to the right to a jury trial. This is when the party accused of the wrongdoing files a motion for summary judgment. These motions allege that, even with the evidence viewed in favor of the injured party, the facts and the law are so one-sided that the accused party should win without the need for a trial. In other words, a jury trial is a waste of time.

This is what happened recently in a case called Yearty v. Scott Holder Enterprises, A18A2074 (March 14, 2019). In that case, a woman, who had nodded off to sleep while waiting for her food to cook, badly burned her hand in a grease fire. She sued the company who installed the smoke detectors at her house. She claimed the smoke detectors didn’t go off, which made the fire much worse than if the alarm had timely sounded. After the evidence was collected, the trial court granted summary judgment to the company, ruling the woman could not prove that the company’s misconduct “caused” her injuries.

The injured woman appealed. In what appears to be a fundamentally flawed decision (at least to this writer), the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that summary judgment was proper based on the principle of causation. Incredibly, the Georgia Court of Appeals reasoned that “[the injured party] has not pointed to any evidence showing that but for a non-functioning smoke detector, [the injured party] would not have sustained her injuries.” This rationale is hard to understand when the very purpose of a smoke detector is to provide an early warning of a fire. Here, the woman claimed that had she had an early warning, she wouldn’t have been injured. This seems both logical and reasonable. Perhaps even more incredible, the court went on to rule that because the woman burned her hand while trying to put out the fire, she was to blame, regardless of whether the smoke alarm should have sounded.

Fortunately, there was a dissenting opinion. Three Georgia Court of Appeals judges decide these types of cases. Here, one of the judges disagreed with the other two. The dissenting judge pointed out the obvious, which is the purpose of a smoke detector is to “provide an early warning of fire  . . . to reduce injuries.” Thus, had the smoke alarm sounded in a timely manner, the injuries might have been prevented. Moreover, trying to put a fire out to minimize property damage, and possibly to save human life, is a natural reaction and shouldn’t get the smoke alarm company off the hook.

After hearing the evidence, maybe the jury would have sided with the woman or maybe the company, but this is case that should have been decided by a jury hearing evidence at a trial. Not by a judge or an appellate court.

If you are injured, please call us at 404-382-9994 to discuss your case.

Slip and Falls in Georgia: Building Code Violations

Slip and falls at commercial properties often involves allegations that a property was “out of code.” The purpose of Georgia’s building codes is to protect public health, safety, and general welfare regarding construction and occupancy of buildings and structures. In other words, Georgia courts and the Georgia legislature have concluded it’s in everyone’s best interest for buildings and structures to be built with at least a minimum level of safety in mind.

In Georgia, O.C.G.A. § 8-2-20(9)(B) is the statute that covers mandatory and permissive state codes. Each of these separate codes typically consist of a base code (e.g., The International Building Code as published by the International Code Council) and a set of Georgia amendments to the base code. The mandatory codes are applicable to all construction whether or not they are locally enforced and the permissive codes are only applicable if a local government chooses to adopt and enforce one or more of these codes.

Georgia courts have ruled that violation of a building code is negligence per se, and evidence of non-conformity with building code standards may be proof of a landowner’s superior knowledge of a defect. In Georgia, someone who falls generally cannot recover unless the landowner knew of or should have known of the danger.

This all sounds good, but dow does it work in real life? When a client comes to us who was injured due to a fall at a commercial property–and it appears there may be a building code violation–we hire an engineering expert to go out to the property to view/measure the condition of the building and render an opinion. Often times our expert will look at such things as the riser heights of stairs and height of railings. If the expert finds a building code violation, this significantly strengthens a claim against the landowner. A building code violation shows objectively that the premise was unsafe, and makes it difficult for the landowner to claim lack of knowledge.

If you’ve been injured in a fall, please call us at 404-392-9994 to discuss your options.

Georgia tax deeds: What if the delinquent taxpayer is deceased?

When a property owner dies, often taxes go unpaid, and the property gets transferred at a tax sale. This typically happens when a property owner dies without close family or when the decedent’s family thinks it’s too much hassle taking over the property (maybe the property is in bad shape or there is little equity).

As every good tax deed purchaser knows, 366 days after the tax sale, notices to terminate the right to redeem can be sent out. But who do you send these to when the main person entitled to redeem, the homeowner, is dead.

O.C.G.A § 48-4-45 answers this question and instructs that “heirs of any deceased owner of any land entitled to notice pursuant to this Code section shall be served by the sheriff or notified as provided in this article.” Ok. So if the former owner is deceased, you are required to serve his or her heirs. Seems simple enough, but how do you determine who the heirs are?

In our office, we start by getting the death certificate of the deceased individual. This tells us where the decencent was living and (normally) provides information regarding at least one family member. We then contact family members to determine the heirs. As you can imagine, family members aren’t thrilled to talk to an attorney’s office who’s trying to “take property away from” a loved one recently passed. However, after explaining the situation, we usually get the family members to help us.

We also check the probate courts to see if the dead person has an estate and had a will. If so, we get the probate paperwork. If the person died intestate (without a will), then we follow Georgia statutory intestate rules to determine the heirs, and try to get “affidavits of descent” from family members. These affidavits help establish who the decedent was married to, the identity of the children, and so forth.

This can be a lot of work. In one case, we had an elderly decedent who died without a will, wasn’t married, and had had nine children. Several of those children had passed, meaning several of the grandchildren were heirs. We ended up having to locate and serve approximately 19 heirs spread all over the country.

If you need to send out notices of foreclosure of right to redeem in Georgia, and are facing a similar situation, we’ll be happy to discuss your situation and answer any questions. Please call us at 404-382-9994.