In an unfortunate example of a Court of Appeals panel totally ignoring a jury, the Court threw out a $1.6 million dollar verdict. The Judges opined that the jury was flat out wrong and considered the evidence incorrectly. Keeping a jury verdict when there is an Appellate bench willing to call the jury blind and deaf is a challenge as this case illustrates in this recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Redmon v. Daniel, which arose from the tragic death of a man struck while navigating a highway exit ramp.
The events leading to this case began on an early morning in September 2009. The evidence showed that the husband of the plaintiff, who brought the claim as the representative of her late husband’s estate, was walking along an exit ramp that led from Georgia Highway 316 to Georgia Highway 120. There are neither street lights flanking this stretch of road nor ambient lighting from nearby signs. The plaintiff’s husband was dressed in dark green shorts and a black shirt at the time. While proceeding along the exit ramp, the plaintiff’s husband was struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe. The impact caused his body to fly into the Tahoe’s windshield and then into the road. The Tahoe was being followed by a garbage truck. The driver of the garbage truck did not see the accident but did testify to seeing something he thought was a deer ricochet off the Tahoe. The garbage truck driver testified that he attempted to avoid the object, but at some point during the driver’s maneuvering, the rear tires of the garbage truck ran over the man’s head. The speed limit along Highway 316 is 55 miles per hour, and the evidence showed that the vehicles were traveling between 40 and 50 miles per hour.
The plaintiff brought suit against multiple defendants, including the driver of the garbage truck and his employer, Republic Services of Georgia, L.P. With respect to these parties, the plaintiff argued that the garbage truck, which was traveling approximately 200 feet behind the Tahoe, was too close to the other vehicle, and had the garbage truck driver maintained a suitable distance, he would have observed her husband’s body and avoiding hitting him. Following the trial, the jury returned a verdict favorable to the plaintiff, finding, among other things, that the garbage truck driver and his employer were collectively 42% at fault for the death. These defendants appealed the judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could establish that the garbage truck driver’s conduct caused the death at hand.
To the plaintiff’s probable chagrin, the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the jury verdict with respect to these defendants. Under Georgia law, a plaintiff in a negligence action must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, the basic elements of negligence, which are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. With respect to the third prong, causation, the plaintiff must show that there is a reasonable basis for concluding “that the wrongdoing is both a cause in fact and a proximate cause of the injuries.” Strength v. Lovett, 311 Ga. App. 35, 40 (2011). At trial, the plaintiff argued that the driver acted negligently by failing to maintain a sufficient distance from the Tahoe. The evidence showed that the garbage truck driver had a following distance of approximately three seconds, and the plaintiff asserted that had the garbage truck kept an additional second of following distance, the driver would have been able to avoid hitting her husband’s body and crushing his head.
However, the defendants produced considerable evidence demonstrating that an increase in the following distance would not have prevented the crushing, for the lack of lighting on the exit ramp would have still prevented the driver from seeing the body until it was too late to prevent the impact. The plaintiff did not provide any evidence rebutting this showing or establishing that additional following distance would have prevented the driver from running over the body. Moreover, the plaintiff’s expert witness testified at trial that the cause of death was uncertain, for the husband’s fatal head injury could have been caused by the impact with the windshield, the collision with the pavement, or the crushing by the garbage truck. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence of causation, both actual and proximate, was speculative and thus insufficient for a reasonable jury determination that the truck driver acted negligently.
Although multiple liable parties may appear to make the likelihood of establishing fault a simpler proposition, this case shows the complexities that arise when the actions of multiple parties contribute to a single injury. Indeed, these cases—which are far from uncommon—require a sound development of the facts applicable to each defendant’s liability. In these situations, the assistance of counsel can be helpful in preparing the best possible strategy, and those who have been injured should consider finding competent legal assistance. The Atlanta car accident attorneys at the Simon Law Firm have experience representing injured Georgia drivers and are ready to provide assistance with a potential claim. If you’ve recently been injured in a motor vehicle accident that you believe may be the result of negligence, feel free to contact us to arrange a free case evaluation.