The county where you bring a car accident lawsuit, the venue, can have as much of an impact on the value of the case as anything else. When analyzing value and making decisions about where to file the lawsuit, you really have to weigh your options carefully. One excellent example of how tricky this can be is a recent opinion, a state appellate court discussed a case that stemmed from a Georgia hit-and-accident. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss how the general procedural rules governing which venue is appropriate fit together with the more specific venue-selection rules contained in the state’s uninsured motorist (UIM) statute.
Ultimately, the court concluded that the specific venue-selection language in the UIM statute should be given effect over the more generally applicable rule. Thus, the court dismissed the defendant’s appeal.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs were injured after the defendant rear-ended the vehicle in which they were riding. Immediately prior to the accident, an unknown “John Doe” driver cut off the plaintiff’s vehicle, requiring the plaintiff driving the car to slam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending him. After the plaintiff slammed on the brakes, the defendant crashed into the back of their car, and the John Doe driver sped away. He was never located. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against both John Doe as well as the named defendant.
Venue Selection in Georgia
Venue refers to the specific location where a case will be heard. Georgia Code § 9-10-93 states that venue is appropriate in any county where the defendant resides. This general rule applies to most Georgia personal injury cases.
However, Georgia also has a UIM statute, § 33-7-11, which governs in situations where a motorist is uninsured. That statute provides that the residence of a “John Doe” defendant under these circumstances defendant will be assumed to be in the county where the accident that caused the injury and damages took place. Alternatively, it will be in the plaintiff’s county of residence, assuming the plaintiff elects such in their action.
The Defendant Disputes the Plaintiffs’ Chosen Venue
The plaintiffs filed the case in the county where the accident occurred, relying on the language in § 33-7-11. However, the defendant claimed that under § 9-10-93, venue was appropriate in his home county, and sought to transfer the case. The court denied the defendant’s request, and the defendant appealed.
On appeal, the lower court’s decision was affirmed. The court explained that it had an obligation to give effect to both statutes, if possible. The court held that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the two statutes best gave effect to both. The court explained that the general rule for venue is that it is appropriate where any defendant resides. Under the UIM statute, a John Doe motorist is presumed to reside in either the county where the accident occurred or where the plaintiff resides. Thus, the court could give effect to both statutes by allowing the case to proceed in the county where the accident occurred – as it is the “home venue” of the John Doe motorist. The court explained that the defendant’s interpretation of the two statutes gave no effect to the UIM statute.
Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Hit-and-Run Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Atlanta car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Even if the other driver was never located, you may still be able to recover for your injuries. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call Attorney Christopher M. Simon at 404-259-7635 to schedule a free consultation today. Attorney Simon represents accident victims and their families in Georgia personal injury cases across Georgia, including in Gainesville, Conyers, and Savannah.
Georgia Court Decides Whether Wrongful Death Claim Is Limited by Previous Personal Injury Claim, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published August 10, 2018
Georgia Court Discusses “Equal Knowledge” in Recent Sip-and-Fall Case, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published July 16, 2018