Articles Posted in Causation

Terrible tragedies can happen and it is not always someone else’s fault. We make a business out of holding the correct parties responsible under the law; the CORRECT parties, not suing everyone that can be sued. This Court of Appeals opinion is a good example of a lawyer overreaching. If the gas company turns off the gas, puts a tag on the valve that says danger and tells you not to turn it on, you cannot sue them when the handyman you hire turns it on. Period.

In this case, the Georgia Court of Appeals had to determine whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Atlanta Gas Light Company (“AGL”) in a case involving an explosion at a residence where there had recently been a resumption of natural gas services.

The explosion at issue occurred in November 2010 at a detached apartment located on a residential tract of land that included a main house where the owner of the property lived with his family. Sometime prior to the explosion, the owner had arranged for gas service at both the main house and the apartment to be switched off, since the apartment was unoccupied at the time, and the family did not use gas in the main residence. At some point after having the gas services stopped, the owner agreed to rent the detached apartment to his coworker. In anticipation of his coworker’s residence in the apartment, the property owner contacted AGL about the resumption of gas services.

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Sometimes I read Georgia car accident appeals cases and I am astounded at the stupidity of some of the claims that plaintiff’s lawyers will bring. This is the legal analysis for a case where the plaintiff was terribly injured and tried to blame the crash on the installation of two new tires on the front two wheels instead of the rear two wheels. This claim would make sense if placing them one axle versus the other left bald tires onboard. But it didn’t. Instead this plaintiff and their lawyer brought suit when the crash happened, wait for it; TWO YEARS AFTER THE TIRES WERE INSTALLED. Come on people, there is a reason the public gets angry with some lawsuits. This is a frivolous case. Now, onto the legal analysis of the interesting part which says that in the right case, the prior owner of a business can maintain responsibility for something happening after they sell if they negligently trained the employee who screwed up. Cool theory.

Georgia law places a duty on employers to ensure that their employees are properly trained and supervised. However, although the duty to reasonably train employees is well-established, the other doctrinal limitations imposed on negligence liability continue to play a significant role in confining the viability of many claims. For instance, in a recent decision, Edwards v. Campbell, the Georgia Court of Appeals reaffirmed the importance of causation in limiting the reach of negligence claims.

Edwards started on April 14, 2011, when the plaintiff’s grandmother took a trip to Campbell Tire Company (“CTC”). CTC had originally been owned and operated by Edward Campbell, but Campbell sold the company to Lanham Enterprises, LLC in April 2009. In an asset purchase agreement executed in conjunction with this sale, Campbell agreed to provided 60 days of training to Joel Lanham, the owner of Lanham Enterprises, LLC, who had no prior experience in the tire business. At the time of sale, it was Lanham’s understanding that the CTC employees had been there for a long time and had been primarily trained by Campbell. During the course of the aforementioned training, Campbell told Lanham that when a customer only purchases two new tires, the tires should be placed on the front axle, and Lanham believed this to be normal industry practice.

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Dealing 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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There are many fears one may have when faced with the prospect of going under anesthesia for a medical procedure. Not likely among the many thoughts you may have, however, is that a medical professional would take advantage of you while in this vulnerable state. Even though this risk may not spring to mind, it certainly is not impossible. Indeed, in a recent decision, Goldstein, Garber & Salama, LLC v. JB, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed what liability may exist for a dental practice following the sexual assault of a patient by one of the company’s employees.

The sexual assault at issue in this case occurred on September 16, 2009. On that day, the plaintiff, a patient at an Atlanta dental practice facility, was set to undergo a three-part dental procedure. During phase one, a post for a tooth implant was installed, which required that the plaintiff be administered anesthesia. Following the completion of this phase, the plaintiff was still in a heavily sedated state, which lasted for approximately the next two hours. During these two hours, prior to the beginning of the second stage, the plaintiff was left alone with one of the dental practice’s Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. The nurse, a male, made three lewd videos with the plaintiff. These recordings were discovered afterward when the nurse’s phone was discovered secretly recording employees in the office’s restroom. An examination of the phone revealed that the nurse had made a number of other videos with anesthetized patients. In a subsequent criminal prosecution, the nurse pled guilty to a number of charges related to these activities and was sentenced to life in prison.

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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.

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Not all plaintiffs are the same, and there are many problems that can arise in injury litigation when a plaintiff with preexisting medical conditions is injured, since these preexisting conditions can make determining the exact source of symptoms exceedingly more complicated. Indeed, causation is a critical element for proving a negligence claim, and it follows that the existence of pre-existing conditions can pose trouble for establishing the necessary causal link between an act of negligence and the harm suffered. This dynamic is illustrated in a recent decision from the Northern District of Georgia, Bruce v. Classic Carrier, Inc., in which the court needed to determine whether a plaintiff needed to proffer expert testimony establishing causation for his neck injury, since he had pre-existing neck ailments from a prior motor vehicle accident.

The Bruce litigation involves not one but two auto accidents. The first of these accidents occurred on May 31, 2008, when the vehicle that the plaintiff in this action was driving was struck from behind by another motorist’s car. As a result of this accident, the plaintiff was sent to the hospital, where he was treated by physicians and injected with pain medication. The second accident occurred less than a month later, on June 11, 2008. On this day, a tractor-trailer being driven by an employee of one of the defendants in this action rear-ended another vehicle that, in turn, struck the back of the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff was again ushered to the hospital, where he was treated for neck, arm, and back pain, injected with more pain medication, and prescribed additional pain medication. To make matters worse, the plaintiff had a long history of spine-related medical ailments, which included psoriatic arthritis with spondylitis, radiculopathy of the cervical and lumbar vertebrae, post-cervical fusion syndrome, and post-lumbar laminectomy syndrome. He had been seeing a rheumatologist for these issues since 1999 and had undergone neck surgery in 2001. In addition, the plaintiff had been seeing a pain management specialist since 2005 to treat recurring pain and numbness in various regions of his body, including in his neck, back, hip, shoulder, and fingers. Following the aforementioned accidents, the plaintiff was referred to a spinal surgeon, who believed the plaintiff’s symptoms had been exacerbated by the two accidents, recommended physical therapy, and sometime thereafter, advised the plaintiff to undergo a second neck surgery.

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