Category: Personal Injury

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.

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.

Medical Malpractice Affidavits: Causation

A recent appellate case provides a cautionary tale for persons making a claim for injuries due to medical malpractice. Edokpolor v. Grady (A16A1031, decided 9/14/2018) is a recent medical malpractice case that was thrown out of court because the injured party’s expert affidavit was deficient.

In Georgia, negligence claims against professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers require  an expert affidavit verifying the wrongdoing. This affidavit is a mandatory requirement in all malpractice claims in Georgia.

For example, in a malpractice claim against a doctor, the affidavit must be from another doctor who practices the same type of medicine and the affidavit must state that culpable doctor’s treatment of the injured patient fell below the standard of care for similar doctors; importantly, the affidavit must also explain how the alleged negligence caused the injury to the patient.

In Edikpolor, the patient reported to Grady Memorial Hospital with cardiac disease and other issues. After spending 30 days in the hospital, the doctors determined the patient needed a colonoscopy. To prepare for the examination, the doctors ordered that bowel preparation medicine be administered to the patient via a feeding tube. Contrary to these instructions, the nurses administered the medication by mouth. The patient allegedly choked on the medication, which caused fluid to enter her lungs, and she died several weeks later as a result.

The patient’s family sued the hospital, which included a malpractice affidavit from another doctor. The affidavit stated that the nurses were negligent in not following the doctor’s order to use a feeding tube, and that the negligence was the cause of the patient’s death.

The problem in this case is that the affidavit was ruled inadequate because it didn’t explain how and why feeding fluid by mouth is more risky than feeding through a tube. On the other hand, the hospital introduced a contradictory expert affidavit, which stated that choking could occur whether taken by mouth or feeding tube because  what happens is the liquid ends up in the stomach and is then regurgitated into the throat; it is at this point when the liquid is inhaled into the lungs. In other words, administering the fluid by mouth was not necessarily the cause of the injuries.

This case shows that “[a] plaintiff must show that the purported violation or deviation [by the medical professional] is the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. He must prove that the injuries complained of proximately resulted from such want of care or skill. A bare possibility of such result is not sufficient. There can be no recovery where there is no showing to any reasonable degree of medical certainty that the injuries could have been avoided.”

It’s easy to be critical after the fact, but the case underscores that not only must you show negligence, but you must be able to show with relative certainty that the negligence caused the injuries.

Food Poisoning in Georgia

In a big victory for parties injured by contaminated or defective food, the Georgia Supreme Court made it significantly easier for food poisoning victims to recover for their injuries. See Patterson v. Kevon, No. S17G1957. Up until this recent decision, a food poisoning victim was required to submit direct evidence of the defectiveness of the food and was only allowed to submit circumstantial evidence if every other reasonable hypothesis as to the cause of the illness was excluded by the evidence.

What this meant in plain English is that, in most instances, an injured party could make a recovery only if they had the actual food item and if the food item was tested in a lab. This was an unrealistic standard because food poisoning symptoms typically appear several hours after consuming the food. And many times, several days pass before symptoms are connected with the defective food. By that time, the food item is long gone.

The facts of the case were, several days after eating BBQ at a wedding, the victim and another guest were diagnosed with salmonella. In addition, 17 other guests had become ill with similar symptoms. Prior to the current ruling, the BBQ caterer would have been able to successfully argue that because the injured party didn’t have the food item to present as evidence (direct evidence), the injured party would lose. This is because the salmonella, in theory, could have been ingested during another meal.

The new decision says that circumstantial evidence, by itself, is enough. Thus, although the victim couldn’t produce a food item that tested positive for salmonella, he had testimony from 19 people attending the wedding, all who suffered salmonella symptoms in the days following the wedding. Even though this was only circumstantial evidence of his injury, it was enough for the injured party to present his case to a jury.