Articles Posted in Child Injury

artificial-lake-2-1535244-1920x1440The guiding principle of negligence liability is that one should be accountable for injuries occasioned by a failure to act with reasonable care. Since reasonableness is the guiding principle for negligence liability, it follows that one should not be held liable when the events leading to the injury, even if foreseeable in theory, are not likely to occur such that there is no reasonable expectation that one should prepare for them. This underlying principle was at the heart of a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Allan v. Jefferson Lakeside L.P., which addressed whether the owner of an apartment complex could be liable for failing to install guardrails around an artificial lake on the property.

The tragic events at issue in this case occurred in May 1, 2010 at an apartment complex owned by the defendant. The plaintiffs had moved into the complex a few months earlier, and on this day the uncle of the plaintiffs’ son came to pick up the child and the child’s father, who was the brother of the driver. This was not the uncle’s first visit to the complex. While driving down the access road with his brother and the child, who was strapped in the backseat, he stopped on the side of the access road in order to retrieve cigarettes from the glove compartment. When his brother opened the glove compartment, the driver saw his navigation system and asked his brother to hand it to him. While he was mounting the navigation system on the dashboard, the driver unintentionally released his foot from the brake and pressed the accelerator, which caused the car to jump the curb and go down a slope that led to an artificial lake that was about only 14 feet from the curb. The car submerged, and although the driver and his brother were able to escape, the child drowned.

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photo_35516_20150116Few cases ever advance far enough to be presented to a jury for consideration. However, when there is a trial, the propriety of interactions between the court, the parties, and the jury are of prime importance. Indeed, the integrity of the judicial process depends on both the court and the parties not unduly influencing the jury’s determination, and even the appearance of a misdeed can lead to a new trial. In a recent decision, Phillips v. Harmon, the Supreme Court of Georgia dealt with such a case of possible misconduct and ordered that there be a new trial held.

The facts underlying this case are incredibly unfortunate. The suit was brought by an infant, by and through his mother, and by the mother herself in an individual capacity. The plaintiffs alleged that as a result of the negligence of the defendants the infant suffered severe oxygen deprivation shortly before his birth. Consequently, the child suffers from  permanent neurological problems, which include spastic quadriplegia, blindness, and an inability to speak. The case eventually progressed to a trial before a jury that returned a verdict for the defendants after a day and a half of deliberations. Following the jury’s verdict, the plaintiffs moved for a new trial, asserting that the trial court erred in both communicating with the jury in the absence of the parties and their attorneys and for not including a spoliation instruction in the jury instructions. Specifically, the trial court had responded to a note from the jury that was sent during deliberations without telling the parties or counsel that there had been a communication. The case was reassigned to a different judge, who denied the motion, and the plaintiff thereafter appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals determined that there needed to be a new trial and vacated the jury verdict. The defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

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photo_37574_201504211-300x200In a recent and highly anticipated decision, Eshleman v. Key, the Supreme Court of Georgia addressed an interesting issue regarding the breadth of official immunity doctrine. Specifically at issue in Eshleman was whether official immunity shielded a police officer from liability when her K-9 dog escaped from her yard and allegedly attacked a child. In an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that official immunity did in fact shield the officer from liability.

The police officer at issue in this case is employed by an Atlanta area law enforcement agency as both a police officer and dog handler. As part of her job, the officer is responsible for the care  of a police dog. When not on duty, the officer keeps the dog at her home, which is near the home of the plaintiff. The alleged attack at issue occurred in 2011. One day in November of that year, the officer placed the dog in a kennel outside her home but did not adequately secure the kennel.  Consequently, the dog absconded from the  yard and encountered the plaintiff’s then 11-year-old son. The plaintiff alleged that the dog attacked his son, which caused serious injury to the child. The plaintiff sued the officer, who moved for summary judgment, arguing that official immunity shielded her from liability. The trial court denied the motion, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial. The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, reversed.

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