railroadWhen confronted with emergencies, even the most sensible people often fail to act with the reasonableness they would display in calmer circumstances. Given that the key inquiry in ascertaining negligence liability is whether one’s conduct was reasonable under the circumstances, it follows that the existence of an emergency should factor into the calculus of establishing whether someone was negligent. However, which sorts of circumstances constitute an “emergency,” permitting the application of this emergency situation defense? This question was at the heart of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Smith v. Norfolk S. R.R. Co., which involved the application of the emergency situation rule to a railroad accident.

The accident at issue in Smith occurred on March 12, 2013. On that day, a pickup truck with two occupants was traveling southbound along Buford Highway. According to an eyewitness, the pickup truck failed to slow as it approached the intersection of Buford Highway and Amwiler Road. As the light turned red, the pickup truck proceeded through the intersection, where it collided with a van that was making a left turn onto Amwiler Road from the northbound lanes of Buford Highway. The collision caused both vehicles to veer off course. The van settled on a grassy area near Buford Highway, and the pickup came to a stop on the railroad tracks that cross Amwiler. Shortly after the pickup truck came to a rest on the tracks, the crossing signals activated, and the crossing gates closed for an approaching train. Other vehicles honked their horns to warn the occupants of the oncoming train.

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dachshundIn an earlier post, we looked at an intriguing Court of Appeals decision in which the Court ruled that when a dog had a non-existent or nominal fair market value, the damages recoverable for the negligent death of a pet were limited to the actual value of the pet, which included economic damages such as veterinary expenses. However, in a recent opinion, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed, in part, the Court of Appeals’ limitations on the appropriate measure of damages.

As a reminder, this case arose from the the death of a mixed-breed dachshund who was owned by the plaintiffs. The dachshund’s death coincided with the dog’s boarding at an Atlanta kennel. The dachshund had been boarded at the kennel for 10 days, along with the plaintiff’s mixed-breed Labrador retriever, who had been prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication. The plaintiff had given personnel at the kennel the medication along with instructions detailing how it should be administered to the Labrador retriever. Shortly after being returned to the plaintiff, the dachshund suffered acute renal failure, which the plaintiff alleged was caused by the kennel’s staff negligently administering the medication intended for the Labrador retriever to the much smaller dachshund. The dachshund underwent various veterinary interventions over the next nine months but ultimately died.

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tractor springCourts in America are generally known for their broad discovery rules. Indeed, litigants in American courts, both state and federal, have access to a far wider scope of information than their peers in foreign legal systems. Notwithstanding the expansive breadth of American discovery rules, courts play little role in the exchange of information, leading some litigants to engage in brinkmanship during the discovery process. For instance, in a recent case, Venator v. Interstate Resources, Inc., a Georgia federal magistrate judge was forced to resolve a discovery dispute involving a defendant refusing to disclose supervisor evaluations related to the alleged wrongful death of a tractor-trailer driver.

The death at the heart of Venator occurred in November 2013. The plaintiff in this case was the widow of a tractor-trailer driver who on the 27th of that month arrived at a warehouse owned by Interstate Paper, LLC. Following his arrival at the warehouse, the driver asked an employee at Interstate to assist him in removing a faulty mud flap from the tractor-trailer. The employee agreed and used a fork lift to aid in the removal of the flap. The facts about what occurred afterward remain in dispute, but somehow during the removal process, the driver became pinned between the fork lift and the tractor-trailer. As a result, the driver suffered injuries and died. Following this tragic event, the decedent’s widow then initiated the current suit against Interstate and the employee operating the fork lift, alleging various claims sounding in negligence.

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food donationBy Special Correspondent, Julia Simon

In Atlanta and many other cities there are confusing guidelines for leftover food donation that  often cause hunger, waste, and anger among restaurateurs and the homeless. According to UNEP (The United Nations Environment Programme) about 20 pounds of food per person, per month is wasted each month in North America alone, Adding up to about 30-40% of America’s food supply.

Many restaurants and bakeries, like Panera Bread or Subway, bake bread fresh each day and are forced to trash leftovers at the end of the day for a couple of reasons. The National Coalition  for the Homeless states that from Jan. 2013 to Oct. 2014  21 cities have passed confusing  laws that scare restaurant owners about the potential for being sued if someone gets sick from spoiled food.

By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States – Clarence Thomas – The Oyez Project,

Justice Thomas needs to retire. He has truly shown his derriere in his latest dissent in Foster v. Chatham. The basic facts of the case are as follows:

  • In 1987 a black man was convicted of raping and murdering a woman.

empty schoolyardDealing with the suicide of a loved one is always a tremendously difficult task. Unfortunately for some, this pain and grief can, in certain circumstances, be exacerbated by an indication that the acts of another party motivated the suicide. Although the conduct of others can clearly contribute to someone’s decision to end his or her life, the law often does not provide for liability in most circumstances. A recent decision from Georgia’s Court of Appeals, City of Richmond Hill v. Maia, demonstrates that courts are reluctant to impose liability when someone elects to commit suicide.

The tragic facts at the heart of this case occurred in 2011. On Valentine’s Day of that year, the then 14-year-old daughter of the plaintiff in this action attempted suicide. As part of an investigation into the matter, Richmond Hill, Georgia officers reported to the hospital and took photos of the minor. The minor remained hospitalized for a little more than a week, but news of her attempted suicide started to spread around her school. One of the minor’s schoolmates asked her father, one of the officers who reported to the hospital, about the suicide attempt. Concerned that his daughter did not understand the gravity of the situation, the officer logged into his work computer to show his daughter photos of the injuries sustained by the minor. At a deposition, the officer testified that he did not allow his daughter to copy the photos and that he did not otherwise disseminate the photos.  However, another schoolmate of the minor testified at a deposition that the officer’s daughter showed her and at least two other students pictures of the minor’s injuries a few days later. A different schoolmate averred that the officer’s daughter used her phone to show another student and her pictures of the injuries.

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modern busAlthough state courts most often serve as the venue for negligence cases, there are certain occasions when a negligence claim may be heard in a federal court. Among these subclasses of state law negligence cases that may be heard in federal courts are those involving “diverse” parties. When all parties are diverse, and the amount in controversy in the case exceeds $75,000, the case may be heard in federal court.  However, although these cases may be heard in federal court, they may still be heard in state courts, and plaintiffs will often elect to file suit in a state court for a variety of reasons. In certain instances, however, a defendant may find the plaintiff’s motive for filing in state court to be tactical or see a possible benefit to be derived from defending the claim in a federal forum and, accordingly, seek removal to a federal court. Following removal, dissatisfied plaintiffs will often try to devise a way to have a case remanded to the state court where they originally filed the action. These varied procedural games associated with removal and remand were raised in a recent decision by an Atlanta federal court, Threatt v. Jasenauskas.

Threatt started with a motor vehicle accident involving a MARTA bus and a tractor trailer. The plaintiff, who was operating the bus, was driving along Continental Way in DeKalb County when a tractor trailer collided with the bus. The tractor trailer was owned by Atlantic Transport, Inc. and insured by National Casualty Company. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought suit against the driver of the tractor trailer as well as Atlantic Transport and National Casualty Company. Atlantic Transport and National Casualty Company, however, filed a notice of removal, arguing that the case should be heard in federal court. Specifically, these defendants asserted that since the plaintiff alleged damages in excess of $75,000, and complete diversity existed between the plaintiff and the defendants, the case should be heard in federal court.

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officeLitigation funding from third-party sources is nothing new in personal injury cases, where injured victims, out of work and short on cash, have been permitted to borrow against the expected return on their pending cases for years now. But what about the prospect of investing money in someone else’s legal proceeding? A new report from the New York Times magazine has highlighted this growing trend, using a classic David v. Goliath story in the process.
At the heart of this news story is a lawsuit involving Miller UK, a small British company, and Caterpillar, the American construction equipment behemoth. Their dispute centers over a particular model of equipment and the intellectual property involved in its design.  The unique part of this dispute lies with the method Miller is using to fund its side of the case.  Rather than paying its legal team straight from the company coffers, Miller has turned to an outside entity called Arena Consulting to front the money for its legal costs.  If Miller is unsuccessful in the suit, Arena will walk away empty-handed.  However, if Miller wins, Arena will stand to gain a significant portion of the proceeds, perhaps into the tens of millions of dollars.
This type of litigation finance is relatively new, but it is already causing a great deal of controversy.  Those in favor argue that this outside funding allows the little guy to have its day in court when they could never afford to fund such a case on its own, particularly when going up against such well-funded opposition.  Nevertheless, detractors of this practice worry that this type of investment could drive the already high costs of our legal system even higher and that the interests of investors and litigants may not always be perfectly aligned.  Whatever the outcome of the Miller case, this topic is just beginning to pique the interest of legal scholars, and we should expect a great deal of debate on its merits in the years to come.

Because we handle a large number of premises liability cases, we frequently get calls on cases that involve injuries or death from children playing in residential swimming pools. Under most circumstances, trespassers on someone else’s land are going to find it very difficult to recover for any injury suffered while on that property. However, most homeowners would be surprised to hear that they could be held liable if a trespassing child made their way into their land and drowned in the backyard swimming pool.

The legal doctrine that provides for this exception is called the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine. Under this exception to the normal rules about trespassers, Georgia Courts have recognized that children don’t always have the capacity to understand unfamiliar dangers or appreciate the risks presented by unfamiliar property. Under this particular doctrine, a landowner has a duty to keep their property free of dangers that are accessible and could cause harm to trespassing children. Gregory v. Johnson, 249 Ga. 151 (1982) is a Georgia Supreme Court case that says this doctrine also applies to swimming pools.

So when is a homeowner with a swimming pool responsible when a neighborhood kid sneaks in and accidentally drowns in the pool? The Gregory Court says five conditions have to be met:

truck drivingIt goes without saying that success in a lawsuit often depends on the evidence. Although a plaintiff is not always certain that he or she will have access to the best possible evidence, one does expect that the opposing party will not, through either neglect or willful obstruction, allow material evidence to be lost. Even though the effects of lost evidence are not easy to cure, court do have means of penalizing parties that fail to comply with their obligations to preserve  evidence. For instance, in a recent decision, O’Berry v. Turner, a federal judge imposed sanctions on several defendants in a tractor-trailer accident case for failing to produce material related to the driver and tractor-trailer involved in the accident.

Turner started with a June 2013 traffic accident in Homerville, Georgia. While proceeding west along Dame Avenue in Homerville, a vehicle being operated by one of the plaintiffs in this action was struck by a tractor-trailer, which the driver of the car alleged swerved into his lane without warning. The collision caused the car to veer off the road and into a light post. As a result of the accident, the driver and another occupant in the vehicle sustained various injuries. The truck was being operated by an employee acting on behalf of ADM Trucking, Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Company. Following the accident, the driver and the other occupant brought suit against the driver of the tractor-trailer, ADM, and Archer Daniels. In August 2013, counsel for the plaintiffs sent a spoliation letter to ADM, requesting that the defendants make an effort to preserve various evidence related to the driver and the trailer involved in the accident. Counsel for the defendants responded to this request and stated that the defendants would take all measures necessary to assure the preservation of pertinent evidence. Eventually, the plaintiffs made a discovery request to the defendant, requesting, inter alia, the truck driver’s driver log and all electronically stored information related to the tractor-trailer involved in the accident. The defendants failed to comply with the request, and the plaintiffs moved for sanctions against ADM and Archer Daniels.

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