Last month the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia rendered a highly relevant opinion concerning a personal injury claim. The opinion in S.G. v. TJX Companies, Inc., et al., (M.D. Ga 2017) is instructive because in it the court interpreted how the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure section regarding amended complaints filed after the statute of limitations has run applies, with regard to Georgia’s statute of limitations, as well as rules relating to amending back for personal injury cases.

slipping-98713_640-300x300The complaint arose out of an incident where the plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell inside of a retail store in Columbus Georgia in June of 2014. The plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the defendant store’s parent corporation in May of 2016. The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint attempting to add an additional defendant corporation in October of 2016. The defendant corporation filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the plaintiff’s claim was untimely. According to the court, the plaintiff failed to respond to the motion to dismiss.

The issue at hand was that the plaintiff was attempting to add an additional defendant after the relevant statute of limitations had passed. Under Georgia law, personal injury actions must be brought within two years after the time of the incident. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (2010). Here, the plaintiff had until two years after her alleged slip and fall to file her complaint. She did file her original complaint before the relevant time period had passed. However, her original complaint had only named the initial defendant parent corporation, and did not include the subsequent corporation. The issue, then, was whether the plaintiff was entitled to any legal exception allowing her to add in the second defendant.

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lawyersNaming the right Defendant in a timely manner is obviously important in lawsuits but if you make a mistake and the defendants knew you made a mistake, then the Defendant is not getting out of a meritorious case. For instance, in one case, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an interesting issue regarding whether a medical malpractice wrongful death claim could be dismissed because the plaintiff erroneously named the wrong physician in the complaint.

The key issue here is the idea in Georgia law that if you screw up and name the wrong defendant but everything else about the case is the same and the defense knew about the mistake and is not prejudiced, then you get to relate the new complaint back to the old one and the Statute of Limitations won’t bar you.

Here a Doctor was sued within the 2 years for medical malpractice. The plaintiff named one doctor when it should have been another at the same practice. The defense lawyer met with the right doctor and discussed the mistake and then sat around and waited until three years later to try to get the case kicked out. The plaintiff corrected the mistake but the trial court threw the case out anyway. Here the Court of Appeals reversed that decision saying the hospital group “has not been surprised by the claim, and they were aware almost immediately, and indeed, they notified Dr. Ellis about the malpractice allegations in the complaint within a month of service of the complaint.” In other words, no harm, no foul.

This wrongful death case that is the subject of this appeal, which was originally filed on December 11, 2011, was brought by the late husband of a woman who died shortly after undergoing a total knee replacement surgery.  Specifically, after surgery, the decedent’s lungs experienced aspiration that caused her to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, which ultimately led to a cardiac arrest, organ failure, and death. In the complaint, the decedent’s husband alleged that this string of events was caused by the purportedly negligent care of a physician employed by a local physician group. An attached expert affidavit further detailed how the physician’s conduct resulted in the death. About a month after the complaint was filed, counsel for the late husband met with the physician named in the original complaint and learned that it was in fact a different physician who performed the acts alleged to be negligent in the complaint. Counsel for the physician did not immediately move to amend the complaint.

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golf courseThe spoliation doctrine provides that when litigation is pending or foreseeable, parties (or potential parties) are under a duty to preserve evidence that may be relevant to the adjudication of the action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. When a party destroys relevant evidence with intent or through gross negligence, it may be subject to sanctions, including the application of adverse evidentiary inferences for a jury to apply at trial. Indeed, given the significant impact a loss of discoverable evidence can have on a plaintiff’s ability to successfully adjudicate his or her case, plaintiffs should always be mindful of important evidence that may exist—for example, videotapes—and be prepared to make arguments in the event such evidence is lost. However, as a recent decision from a Georgia federal district court reveals, establishing spoliation can be a difficult undertaking.

The incident at the heart of this case occurred at a golf course in the Appalachian region of Northern Georgia on October 11, 2014. On that day, the plaintiffs were driving in a golf cart between the second and third holes of the course when the golf cart slid and flipped. The plaintiffs sustained injuries as a result of the accident, and they alleged these were caused by the poor condition and maintenance of the path, about which they claimed they were not warned. The plaintiffs brought suit against the company that owns and manages the golf course, alleging negligence and loss of consortium. After the accident, both the golf cart and the signage that indicated drivers should avoid the area where the crash occurred had been removed or destroyed. Accordingly, the plaintiff made a motion seeking spoliation sanctions.

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fireTerrible 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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horseAs a state that serves as home to many large expanses of farmland, Georgia has many unique laws reflecting this heavily rural character. Among these interesting laws is the Georgia Injuries from Equine or Llama Activities Act (“Equine Act”), which is codified at O.C.G.A. § 4-12-1 et seq. Although this is clearly not the most commonly invoked statute, it remains in the books, and as the Georgia Court of Appeals recently learned, it is among those laws still ripe for litigation.

The case, Gadd v. Warwick, arose from an accident at a summer camp. The plaintiff in this action was 19 at the time of the accident and was one of the camp’s counselors. Among his duties as a counselor was leading children on “trail rides.” On May 30, 2011, a supervisor decided that some of the staff, including the plaintiff, should take a trail ride with the horses to get the horses acclimated to the route to be taken with the camp attendees. During this tester ride, the horse on which the plaintiff was riding jumped—rather than stepped—over a 12-inch-wide stream and then reared up on his hind legs. As a result, both the plaintiff and the horse lost their balance. The plaintiff fell from the saddle onto the ground, and the horse then landed on him. The plaintiff sustained an injury as a result.

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standsThe Georgia Recreational Property Act, O.C.G.A. § 51-3-20 et seq., generally immunizes both private and governmental property owners from many forms of negligence liability when the owner of such property makes it available for recreational purposes free of charge. In a recent decision, The Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Garden City v. Harris, the Georgia Court of Appeals dealt with an interesting issue of first impression regarding the application of this expansive law. Specifically, the Court of Appeals needed to determine whether a city was immunized from liability if it did not charge the injured person a fee but charged others a fee to use the property.

The incident at issue in Harris occurred on November 10, 2012. On that day, a family, which included a young child, attended a youth football game at Garden City Stadium, a recreational facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. The entrance gate of the facility—at which there was a no-trespassing sign posted—was located next to a ticket booth. The admittance fee structure was as follows. Spectators under the age of six were not charged a fee, children older than six were charged $1, and adults were charged $2. The parents paid the applicable admittance fees for themselves and their children older than six. Their young daughter, however, was under the age of six and therefore was not charged a fee. During the game, the young daughter and her siblings left the bleachers where they had been seated with their parents to procure goods from the concession stand. While returning to the seats, the young child slipped and fell through a space between the bleachers and landed on the ground below. As a result of the fall, she sustained various injuries.

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tipsAmong the most active and quickly evolving areas in wage-and-hour law is liability associated with the misappropriation of tips. Under federal law, employers are permitted to pay workers in tip occupations an hourly wage, minus the prevailing minimum wage, for it is assumed that the lower hourly wage will be offset by the tips earned by the employee.  Given that tips make up a substantial portion of these employees’ wages, many will take issue with tips being co-opted by employers for other purposes. For instance, in a recent decision, Malivuk v. Ameripark, LLC, an Atlanta federal district court resolved a motion to dismiss in an action brought by a group of valets, arguing that their employers committed minimum wage violations by using money gathered from tips to offset other business expenses.

This action was brought against Ameripark, LLC, a limited liability corporation that provides valet services to businesses throughout the Atlanta metro area. A valet employed by Ameripark alleged that although she and other similarly situated employees were provided an hourly wage, they were unlawfully denied wages under both federal and state laws because Ameripark pooled the tips received by valets from customers and appropriated some of the tip funds for business purposes other than compensating the valets. The plaintiff brought suit against Ameripark. Following the initiation of the action, Ameripark moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the plaintiff did not state a valid wage claim under federal law and that the state law claims also failed because they were dependent on the plaintiff stating a valid federal wage claim.

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tiresSometimes 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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gunIn 2008, the Georgia legislature enacted the “Business Security and Employee Privacy Act,” O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135, which generally prohibits an employer from restricting an employee from bringing a licensed firearm onto the employer’s parking lot. In addition to protecting employees’ right to bring firearms onto business property under certain circumstances, the law immunizes businesses from criminal or civil liability arising from “the transportation, storage, possession, or use” of such firearms. O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135 (e). Although there are numerous exceptions under the Act, liability associated with employee firearm injuries is far more circumscribed than it was previously. For instance, in a recent decision, Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc., the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of claims against an employer whose employee shot someone else while making a delivery.

The shooting at issue in Lucas occurred on July 10, 2013. On that day, a field-service engineer employed by Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”), a biomedical testing equipment company, arrived at Albany Area Primary Healthcare (“AAPH”), where the engineer was scheduled to perform maintenance work on BCI equipment located at the facility. Upon his arrival at the facility, which was around 10:00 a.m., the field-service agent observed that the equipment on which he was supposed to perform maintenance was in use and returned to the parking lot to wait. When he returned to the parking lot, the field-service agent saw an AAPH lab technician with whom he was familiar taking a break. The two chatted for a few minutes, and while they were returning inside AAPH, the lab technician mentioned that there had been a spate of car burglaries in the parking lot. This news concerned the field-service engineer, for although it violated BCI policy, he often carried his personal firearm in the company vehicle while making service stops and was worried that it might be stolen. Accordingly, upon hearing this information, the field-service engineer returned to the BCI vehicle to retrieve his gun. Shortly after entering the building, the field-service engineer attempted to clear his weapon, but as he was doing so, the gun discharged, which resulted in a bullet striking the field-service engineer in the hand and the lab technician in the abdomen.

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In a story made for Hollywood, it was recently revealed that billionaire Peter Thiel was quietly funding Hulk Hogan’s litigation against Gawker.com. 616px-Hulk_HoganWe have previously discussed the silent emergence of hedge funds investing in high stakes divorce and business litigation for a cut of the winnings. What we are seeing here is a long term revenge play straight out of The Count of Monte Cristo.

The story goes like this:

  1. Hulk Hogan had intercourse with a Tampa area woman and he claims he did not know it was recorded. The tape circulated for a while and was then posted on Gawker.com.