Here is the link to the PDFs of my powerpoint presentation from the Plaintiff’s Personal Injury CLE.
Where Spouse Won’t Bring Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Others Can
In the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled on February 7, 2023, in the case of Hamon v. Connell et al., that Diane Dickens Hamon could file a medical malpractice action for the wrongful death of her father, James Isaac Dickens, Jr. against William Clark Connell, M.D., and South Georgia Emergency Medicine Associates, P.C. (collectively “Appellees”).
As you may recall, the list of who has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia is strictly controlled. If the decedent is married, that spouse has the sole right. If they are not married, the right goes to any children, if there are no children then it goes to the parents.
In this medical malpractice case, the spouse refused to file a suit, so the Appellees argued that the adult child, Hamon, did not have the right to bring the claim because Dickens had a surviving spouse. The trial court initially denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The Supreme Court of Georgia granted Hamon’s petition for certiorari to consider the issue and concluded that the trial court had properly denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings, so the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision.
Georgia Appellate Decision on Uninsured Motorist Limits Evidence of Selection
Many years ago, Georgia modified its Uninsured Motorist statute to give some additional protection to consumers. It said that when placing coverage it had to offer you the same uninsured motorist coverage limits as you have for liability coverage. Remember that liability insurance is the protection you buy to insure you if you cause an accident or injury and uninsured motorist insurance is the coverage that you buy to protect yourself if you are hurt by someone with little or no insurance. Basically the UM coverage is for you if something bad happens to you.
Since the State of Georgia only requires that you buy liability coverage, many people try to save money by not getting UM coverage. and in the process screwing themselves. Agents are complicit because they don’t understand how important uninsured motorist insurance is. The end result is people buying top end liability coverage and then, inadvertently, getting a tiny crappy UM policy for marginal savings.
So we turn to the recent case coming out of the Georgia Court of Appeals in the 2023 case of Jones v. Georgia Farm Bureau where the facts showed that a Mr. Jones tragically died in a car accident and when his family wanted to claim the Uninsured Motorist Insurance, Farm Bureau advised him that while he had $1,000,000 in liability coverage, he opted for a tiny $25,000 in UM coverage.
Fighting Air Ambulance and Airlift Bills May with New Laws
Over the years, we have had numerous clients airlifted from the scene of accidents by air ambulance helicopters only to come home to outrageous bills of $60,000 and $70,000. In recent years, the best policy has been negotiation with the providers but new Georgia and Federal legislation may be changing all of that. Don’t get me wrong, these companies can save your life, but they can also put you in the poorhouse.
So what are the new laws? First let’s review the Georgia Law which became effective on January 1, 2021.
What does it apply to? Any Emergency Medical services.
Shoulder Surgery in Fulton County Trial Yields Less Than Asked
We had a good friend try a jury trial in Fulton County the first week of November and he ran into a tough reality with some Fulton County juries. The plaintiff was in a car accident and underwent an arthroscopic shoulder surgery and had a manipulation of frozen shoulder under anesthesia some months later. The medical bills totaled $55,000. The Plaintiff’s lawyer took the policy limits of the at fault driver of $100,000 in a partial settlement well before trial, a fact not known to the jury. They tried the case as the next layer of insurance with the uninsured motorist insurer would not offer anything. They asked the jury to award $550,000.
So, what is an arthroscopic shoulder surgery worth in Fulton County in 2022 with $55,000 in bills? When you get a majority North Fulton jury from Buckhead, Alpharetta etc., not as much as one would think. The jury returned a verdict for only $85,000, meaning the Plaintiff did not receive more than the $100,000 in settlement from the tortfeasor. Fulton can be very conservative when a Northern pool of jurors shows up.
What are the lessons from a result like that? You can try a technically sound case and still not get a conservative group of jurors interested in a substantial verdict for this type of an injury. The surgery is outpatient, it’s not gory and most people know someone who has undergone the procedure without complication. Be careful when overestimating value in a simple non-commercial accident case where there is nothing for the jury to get invested in.
Video Traffic Tickets in School Zones in Georgia; a Traffic Racket
Well this is complete garbage. I received a citation by mail the other day with a picture of my truck stating that I had been speeding in a school zone in Tallulah Falls, Georgia on September 14, 2022. Now this is odd as I don’t usually speed, but that is a picture of my truck. So I go look it up on Google Maps and guess what. That’s State Road 441 through Tallulah Falls with a 55 mph speed limit and they clocked me at 57. Now here is the trick. Because there is a Middle School adjacent to a high speed road, they just slapped the camera system on there as a speed trap. I have no problem with school speed zones and I have zero issue if there are busses coming and going and the flashing lights are activated, but this is a pure, old-fashioned speed trap designed for revenue. Here is how you know. If I am in a school zone, the lights ought to be flashing to put me on notice that a 55 mph state road is all of a sudden dropping to 45. If I still speed, that’s on me. There were no flashing lights that day at 2:37 in the afternoon.
Now read what the police chief said to the Clayton Tribune;
“Elrod said that if for some reason the lights are not flashing during the designated hours, it might mean they need to be repaired or replaced. However, the camera will still issue citations if motorists are speeding through the designated area during the specified times. Elrod clarified the speed limit is set by the Georgia Department of Transportation. “We here at Tallulah Falls don’t set the speed limit, we just enforce it to the best of our ability,” Elrod said.” Clayton Tribune September 15
How are Georgia Car Accident Laws different from South Carolina Car Accident Laws
- Minimum Insurance Limits: This is the bare minimum in each state that you must have to operate a vehicle. Georgia: $25,000 South Carolina $25,000.
- Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance: This protects with hit and runs, low insurance crashes and no insurance crashes. Georgia: Both UM coverages are the same. South Carolina: Different policy for Under and Un Insured. They can exist one without the other and in different amounts.
- Stacking of UM policies is allowed in both States.
Georgia Bad Faith and Asking to Add a Party
In a June 2022 decision the Georgia Court of Appeals, “A22A0361” Bennett v. Novas, No. A22A0361, (Ga. Ct. App. Jun. 17, 2022), has again states that even asking permission as an insurer to add the named insured is a rejection of a time limited demand to settle a case within policy limits. The surprising thing is this is even true in the post July 2021 era of the new Georgia Bad Faith Statute.
The general concept is that if a Plaintiff gives the insurer the chance to settle for the policy limits, they can ask a specific number of things from the Defendant and under the new statute, if a release is sent along with the paperwork, then you cannot ask about even the possibility of adding a party. If you don’t send your own release, there is a possibility that the insurer could seek clarification as to whether all insureds are to be released.
The Appellate Court noted
Covid Tolling of Statute of Limitations Is Airtight, but you Need to Consult Your Calendar
As many folks know, the Georgia Supreme Court entered an Order tolling (freezing) the running of the statute of limitations in the early months of Covid because the clerks and courts were simply closed and nothing could be done. While the statute of limitations in personal injury cases typically runs after two years, this placed a 122 day freeze period in place when the calendar would not run out for cases with statutes that included those dates. That would include any crash occurring before March 14, 2020 that had a 2 year statute set to expire before July 14, 2020.
If a crash occurred on April 15, 2020, then the plaintiff would have until July 13, 2022 to file their lawsuit. They get the two years and it is as though the dates from April 15-July 13 never happened.
Phone Calls from Campbell and Brannon about Car Accidents
We have now had two clients tell us that they were called by someone offering to set them up with a chiropractor and an attorney. The worst part is the phone number they are using is spoofing the phone of a well respected real estate closing firm in Atlanta, Campbell and Brannon. Spoofing is where you make your phone number look like the number of another law firm. That law firm has nothing to do with these phone calls and yet this is how the scam is running. This illegal practice of reaching out to accident victims after a crash to cajole them into signing up as injury clients is disgusting and dragging the good name of a law firm along with it is even worse.
The law on the subject can be found below.