Georgia Court of Appeals Tackles Appeal in MARTA Wrongful Death Suit

Blue Line Rapid Transit CarPublic transportation is certainly a benefit, if not a necessity, for many in the Atlanta metropolitan area. However, travel on the rails or in buses, like driving in a car, is not free of risk. In a recent decision, Maloof v. Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed whether it was appropriate to grant summary judgment in favor of MARTA in a negligence suit involving a disabled passenger traveling in a  para-transit vehicle.

The accident at issue in the case occurred on April 13, 2005. On that day, the deceased, whose estate brought the instant lawsuit on her behalf, was traveling in a MARTA para-transit van. After the deceased boarded the bus, she backed her wheelchair into position, and the driver of the vehicle secured the wheelchair to the floor in four places and strapped a lap belt across the deceased’s waist. The deceased, however, declined to wear the shoulder harness. The deceased had traveled on para-transit buses before and had on all previous occasions declined to wear the shoulder harness. While making a wide right turn onto Piedmont Avenue, the para-transit van veered into an adjoining lane of traffic and, as a result, made impact with another vehicle. The contact was slight, but in an effort to avoid a more serious collision, the driver stopped abruptly, which caused the deceased to fall to the ground and break her leg. The deceased remained immobile for several months before passing away a little more than four months later.

The deceased’s estate brought suit against MARTA, alleging that the driver was negligent for, inter alia, failing to secure the wheelchair properly and failing to maintain her lane while operating the van. This appeal addressed the propriety of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on those theories of negligence. First, the estate argued that summary judgment was inappropriate on negligence predicated on the failure to secure the wheelchair, because the court failed to give evidentiary weight to a transcribed and recorded, but unsworn, statement given by deceased to an insurance agent acting on behalf of MARTA. The trial court quickly disposed of this issue. Clearly, this out-of-court statement being offered as truth of the statement constitutes hearsay. The Court of Appeal quickly reviewed whether it fell into any applicable hearsay exceptions and determined that none permitted the introduction of the hearsay statement. Accordingly, the trial court was correct in declining to afford the statement any evidentiary weight and, ultimately, finding that no issue of material fact precluded granting summary judgment.

However, the Court of Appeals reached a different conclusion with respect to the estate’s second argument. In granting summary judgment with respect to the driver failing to maintain her lane, the court declined to grant evidentiary weight to a police report that contradicted the driver’s description of the accident. Although the police report is an unsworn, out-of-court statement, public records are typically an admissible form of hearsay. See O.C.G.A. § 24-8-803 (8) (exempting from the hearsay rule “public records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices, setting forth: … (B) matters observed pursuant to a duty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to report ….”). In this case, the responding officer was acting within the scope of this duty to observe and report the scene of the accident. As noted above, the report contradicted driver testimony and created an issue of material fact with respect to whether the driver drove negligently. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment with respect to negligence predicated on negligent operation of the van.

As this case clearly demonstrates, arguments in auto accident cases can involve issues beyond niceties related to how fast a car was going. Indeed, there is often considerable evidentiary wrangling at all stages of litigation, and those harmed as a result of possible negligence would be well served enlisting the aid of counsel experienced with the milieu of evidentiary issues that may arise. The Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have representing injured clients in state and federal courts and can provide you with competent guidance through all stages of litigation, including a possible appeal. If you’ve recently been injured and are interested in knowing more about the possible legal options you may have, please do not hesitate to contact us for a complimentary case consultation.

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