Category: Personal Injury

Getting Insurance to Pay When you Can’t Find the Negligent Driver

When suing a negligent driver for injuries, the general rule in Georgia is that the negligent driver must be personally served with the legal paperwork—this means a sheriff must hand deliver the legal paperwork to the negligent driver. This undisputedly insures that the negligent driver is aware of the lawsuit. But what happens when the negligent driver’s whereabouts are unknown? For instance, the negligent driver has moved or is intentionally avoiding service.

While this isn’t a common problem, it occurs from time to time. From a personal injury standpoint, this becomes a critical issue when the negligent driver has insurance coverage but can’t be found. Is the insurance company still on the hook to provide coverage?

If the negligent driver can’t be personally served, Georgia law allows what is called service by publication. This is when notice of the lawsuit is published in the local newspaper. This is permitted when the person resides outside the state, or has departed from the state, or can’t, after due diligence, be found within the state, or conceals himself or herself to avoid the service of the summons. This language is found in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4(f)(1)(A).

Sounds easy enough, but, as mentioned above, the important question is whether service by publication is sufficient to hold the insurance company liable. Like most legal questions, it depends …

Henderson v. James, A19A0632 (June 6, 2019), a Georgia Court of Appeals decision, faced the exact question. In this case, which involved whether an insurance company could be held liable on behalf of a negligent driver who couldn’t be personally served. Even though the negligent driver had been service by publication, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the insurance company, holding that service by publication gives a court personal jurisdiction (i.e., allows a recovery against the insurance company) if, and only if, all of the following apply:

(1) The lawsuit must involve a tort (a wrongful act or an infringement of a right leading to civil legal liability). Because injuries from motor vehicle collisions are considered torts, this is not an issue in these cases.

(2) The negligent driver must be a resident in the county where the lawsuit is filed and must be present within the county.

(3) The negligent driver must have actual knowledge of the lawsuit and must be intentionally avoiding being served with the legal paperwork.

Only if the evidence shows that all three of the above standards have been met will the insurance company be responsible for providing coverage. In Henderson, the injured party lost because the evidence before the court didn’t establish the second or third standards.

A trick used by the insurance companies is to file a motion to dismiss on this issue two years after the collision. In Georgia, there is a two-year statute of limitation. If the negligent driver isn’t properly served within the two years, then most of the time the case is dismissed. Generally, there are no second chances after the two years has expired.

Getting personal service within two years after the motor vehicle collision is critical. Please call us if you are injured in a motor vehicle collision. We have over 20 years’ experience dealing with these types of issues.

Suing a Parent of an Adult Child Who Causes a 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.