Recently, a Georgia appeals court issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from serious injuries a victim suffered in a motor vehicle accident. There was no debate about who caused the crash and no debate about the past medical care. The issue was whether the jury was allowed to consider the future medical care.

The defendant in the matter admitted responsibility, and the jury awarded the plaintiff $25,000 in past damages and $100,000 in future medical expenses. After the verdict the defense asked the Judge to set aside the part of the verdict regarding the future medical expenses award saying that the Doctor did not testify they would probably be necessary; they just said they might be necessary.  The procedure is called a Motion for JNOV. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting the motion, because the evidence supported the award.

Under OCGA § 9-11-50 (b), judges may only grant a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), in cases when, without weighing the evidence’s credibility, there is only one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment. In cases where there is conflicting or insufficient evidence, the JNOV is inappropriate. Further, the standard for reviewing a JNOV is “whether the evidence, with all reasonable deductions, demanded a verdict contrary to that returned by the factfinder.” Courts have long held that it is an error to grant a JNOV if there is any evidence to support the jury’s verdict.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an opinion in a drunk driving accident which addressed some confusion over what the term “active tortfeasor ” means and whether not only the drunk driver can be liable for punitive damages, but also whether the guy that gave the keys to a known drunk can be liable as well.  Two cousins were drinking together and the owner of the car gave the keys to his cousin who 1) had no license 2) had a history of reckless driving and 3) was drunk. The driver hit someone and both cousins got sued.

The language from the punitive damages statute at issue says:

“(f) In a tort case in which the cause of action does not arise from product liability, if it is found that the defendant acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm, or that the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to that degree that his or her judgment is substantially impaired, there shall be no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages against an active tort-feasor but such damages shall not be the liability of any defendant other than an active tort-feasor.”

A recent appeals case involving a store employee who was shot when he challenged a potential car thief in a parking lot illustrates the challenges that each fact pattern can represent. The opinion involving a Georgia premises liability claim stemming from a tragic murder at the grocery store.

According to the court’s opinion, a grocery store employee drove to work in his truck and parked it in the store’s parking lot. At work, he was assigned to clean debris from the store’s property. While he was working, the employee saw a car park next to the employee’s work truck. An individual exited the vehicle and approached the employee’s truck suspiciously. The employee and his co-worker ran towards the truck and approached the car. When the employee approached the window, a man shot and killed him.

The employee’s surviving spouse (the plaintiff) filed a lawsuit against the grocery store, claiming the store’s negligence was responsible for her husband’s death. Specifically, the plaintiff’s claim alleged that the store was negligent in failing to maintain, inspect, and manage the premises. Further, she contended that the grocery store was negligent in failing to warn and remediate a long history of crime at the property.

In June, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an opinion addressing whether the state’s dog bite statute, OCGA § 51-2-7, violates the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The case stems from an attack resulting in the plaintiff suffering serious injuries, as well as the death of their pet. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit seeking damages against the attacking dog’s owners. The plaintiff claimed that they were entitled to damages under OCGA § 51-2-7. The defendants filed a motion in limine, arguing that the statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On appeal, the defendants claimed that the statue creates an irrebuttable presumption that an owner is aware of a dog’s vicious propensity. They claimed that this presumption violates procedural due process. Upon review, the court first addressed its duty to construe a statute as constitutional, whenever possible. In cases where a statute has two potential meanings, courts typically interpret it as constitutional. Using those principles, the court analyzed the defendant’s contention.

OCGA § 51-2-7 explains :

photo_1591_20060518-300x200-300x200In a Georgia car accident case, the injured person usually needs to have medical testimony from the treating doctors to help the jury understand the gravity of the injury. To spare Doctors from having to close their practice and spend half a day in Court, the Georgia legislature created the Medical Narrative statute. It basically says that if the letter is on letterhead from the Doctor and is signed and clearly lays out the nature of the medical problem and what caused it, that letter can be shown to the jury as evidence. The defense can always choose to pay to depose the Doctor and cross examine but otherwise it usually comes in. Defense lawyers will often challenge the admissibility of the letter on several bases and this appellate case is an example of that.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case discussing whether the trial court’s ruling to strike portions of the plaintiff’s treating physician’s narrative about medical care was correct. Ultimately, the court concluded that the medical provider’s narrative was not “too inconclusive, speculative, and vague,” finding it admissible.

The Facts of the Case

Back in 2016, both the plaintiff and defendant were involved in a multi-vehicle collision. The plaintiff initiated a personal injury claim against the defendant, and the defendant acknowledged he was responsible for the accident. However, the defendant claimed that he was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

At trial, the plaintiff presented a narrative from her treating physician. The narrative outlined the care provided to the plaintiff, as well as an estimate of the cost of necessary future medical care. The defendant objected to the admission of the narrative, arguing, among other things, that it was “too inconclusive, speculative, and vague” concerning the future cost of medical care. The trial court agreed with the defendant, striking those portions of the narrative.

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So it may happen in a case that a defender, especially a corporate defendant has made statements on a public forum or website and those statements may contradict or impeach a position they are taking now in a case. How do you 1) access the old version of the website and 2) authenticate it and get the Judge to admit it into evidence?

Old Website Versions

So our friends at the Wayback Machine do one thing and do it well, archive old websites. You can have fun and poke around at very old versions of pretty much any website, even Google! So assume that Company X has stated their safety screening policy for their truck drivers and you want to impeach their safety director with the old standards. Surf over to Wayback, pull the old version of the site and then print it out in hard copy with the web address listed below.

Can you sue a hotel for a slip and fall at the pool? The Court of Appeals in Georgia recently issued an opinion in a slip and fall lawsuit against a hotel that sheds some light on what facts support a valid lawsuit against the hotel.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries after falling on a wet sidewalk near the hotel’s pool. Evidently, on the evening of the incident, the woman and her grandchildren were leaving the pool when she noticed that the hotel’s sidewalk was shiny and looked “slick.” Her grandson was walking in front of her, still wet from the pool, and she warned him to slow down. However, shortly after warning her grandson, she slipped on the wet sidewalk and fell.

The heart of the claim for why the hotel was responsible and not the grandma is that the paint on the sidewalk had deteriorated to the point that it no longer had “grip” and was slippery instead. In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented an expert witness affidavit, stating that, in the expert’s opinion, the hotel failed to maintain the sidewalk in a safe condition. The affidavit indicated that the deteriorating sidewalk paint was hazardous, especially when it became wet.

firework-300x199Like all red blooded Americans, I like a great fireworks show and I shoot some every year after stopping at the adult toy store feeling fireworks shops in Alabama on the way back from 30A. The question is; after you binge and buy, what will and won’t get the cops called on you in Georgia?

It used to be that all we had were sucky fountains and sparklers. Booo. Being the rednecks that we are, we passed a law allowing the following:

  • Bottle Rockets

The sad reality is there are over a thousand people killed every year in Georgia accidents but not all of them should be lawsuits. This is the woeful tale of a dimwit attorney filing a lawsuit on behalf of a motorcyclist who was clearly hauling way to fast down the road, when he died in the crash. I have handled cases like this for guys on motorcycles and it is rarely the Harleys or cruising bikes, usually the sport bikes where speed is the killer. In the case we handled, we realized deep into the evidence that our guy was likely going 70 in a 45 when he underode a tractor trailer in broad daylight. It’s not a good case and we settled for the $90,000 they offered to ensure that the 13 year old daughter would have money for college. Unfortunately for the family of a Georgia motorcyclist who suffered fatal injuries in an accident his lawyers ignored reality. They filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against two occupants of the vehicle that struck their loved one. After a jury found in favor of the defendants and said it was the motorcycle rider’s fault for speeding, the plaintiffs moved for a new trial. The trial court denied their motion, and the plaintiffs filed an appeal. On appeal, the biker’s estate argued that the trial court erred in permitting inadmissible witness testimony and denying their motion for a new trial.

At trial, the court permitted eyewitnesses to testify that the biker was driving around 80 to 100 miles per hour before the accident. Further, they allowed a police officer to testify that, based on the bike’s engine sound, the motorcyclist’s speed was between 60 and 90 miles per hour. The plaintiffs argued that the court erred in allowing this testimony because the witnesses did not see the bike at the time of the collision. The plaintiffs argued that the law only permits witnesses to estimate a vehicle’s speed if they saw the vehicle when the accident occurred. Everyone knows what a sport bike sounds like at speed. It is unmistakeable. It is no surprise the judge and jury found the way they did.

Georgia Code section 24-7-701 permits a non-expert witness to testify only in instances where their opinions are rationally based on their perception, helpful to understanding a witness’s testimony, and not based on technical, scientific, or specialized knowledge. In this case, the court found that the trial court did not err in permitting this testimony. It explained that the witnesses provided a basis for their opinions, including their personal experience riding and observing motorcycles and seeing the plaintiff’s bike on the day of the accident. The court reasoned that this factual foundation was sufficient to allow the witnesses to testify to the motorcycle’s speed before and at the time of a collision, even if they did not observe the impact.

Knowing the applicable statute of limitations is the first step in any personal injury claim. However, even when a statute of limitations has passed, an exception may still apply, as one recent case before a Georgia appeals court illustrates.

The Facts of the Case

On October 16, 2014, two drivers were involved in a car accident in Fayetteville, Georgia. A police officer responded to the scene and issued the defendant a traffic citation for following too closely. The citation listed November 18, 2014, as the final date to contest the citation. The defendant paid the citation on October 27, 2014, and the bond was forfeited on November 18, 2014. The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against the defendant on November 10, 2016.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Tolling a statute of limitations allows a plaintiff to stop the statute of limitations from running for some time. In Georgia, under OCGA 9-3-33, there is a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. However, under OCGA 9-3-99, the statute of limitations may be tolled for a claim brought by the victim of an alleged crime for a tort arising out of the same facts and circumstances until the criminal prosecution becomes final or is otherwise terminated.

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