Articles Posted in Car Accidents

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Anyone who has had the misfortune of being involved in a serious Georgia car or truck accident may understand how difficult it is to work with insurance companies. In too many situations, an insurance company will deny coverage for medical treatment that has already been received, and was often provided in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Due to these concerns, Georgia lawmakers allow for bad-faith claims to be filed against insurance companies who delay, withhold, or deny a policy holder’s legitimate claims. A recent case illustrates how one car accident victim’s year-long fight for coverage turned into a viable bad-faith claim against an insurance company.

HospitalThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the passenger in her mother’s car when it was struck by another driver who ran a stop sign. After the accident, the plaintiff was taken to the hospital, where she was admitted to the emergency room. After being seen in the emergency room, she was then transferred to the level two trauma center. Four hours after she arrived at the hospital, she was discharged with a cervical collar. She did not receive a prescription for pain medication. After leaving the hospital, she continued to receive outpatient care for her injuries.

The driver who caused the accident did not have automobile insurance, so any claims for reimbursement of medical expenses were submitted through the underinsured/uninsured motorist provision of the mother’s insurance policy. Specifically, the plaintiff filed a claim for approximately $67,000, including approximately $24,000 from the treatment received in the trauma center.

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Earlier this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case brought by a man who was struck by a drunk driver who was operating a moving truck that was owned by his employer. The case required the court to determine if the employer could be held liable for the employee’s actions, given what the employer knew at the time it allowed the employee to use the truck. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff did present sufficient evidence to survive summary judgement.

Key RingThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was an employer who allowed one of its employees to use a moving truck for personal use. While the employee was borrowing the truck, he was allegedly involved in a drunk driving accident, seriously injuring the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the allegedly drunk driver as well as his employer.

The plaintiff presented the testimony of the employee, who explained that he told the employer during his pre-employment interview that he had been convicted of multiple drunk driving offenses. The employee candidly admitted that he was not exactly sure of what he told the employer during the interview, but he remembered that he was honest about his past and that he disclosed that he had “multiple” DUIs.

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In December of last year, a Georgia appellate court heard a case brought by the parents of a four-year-old boy who was killed after the gas tank in the Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was a passenger caught fire. In the case, Chrysler Group v. Walden, the court dismissed each of the manufacturer’s claims of error and agreed that Chrysler acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life,” affirming the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

Fueling UpThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s four-year-old son, Remington, was a back-seat passenger in his aunt’s Jeep Grand Cherokee when another motorist rear-ended them. As a result of the collision, the Jeep’s gas tank ruptured, and the vehicle caught fire. Remington’s aunt was able to escape the fire herself but was tragically unable to rescue her nephew. He died in the fire.

Remington’s parents filed a product liability case against Chrysler, the manufacturer of the Jeep, arguing that it acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” in designing, manufacturing, and continuing to sell the vehicle despite its knowledge of the dangers associated with the gas tank’s placement. After a trial, the jury determined that Chrysler was 99% at fault for the accident and returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for a total of $150 million. That figure was later reduced to $40 million. Chrysler appealed on several grounds.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued an interesting opinion involving a plaintiff’s late-filed case against a school district. In the case, Newcomb v. Middle Country School District, the court held that the plaintiff should have been allowed to file his claim after the initial deadline had expired because he had good reason for the late filing, and the defendant did not suffer substantial prejudice.

School SignThe Facts

The plaintiff’s 16-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver as he was crossing the street near a school. The driver was not immediately arrested, but the plaintiff did report the accident to the school board. After the driver’s subsequent arrest, the plaintiff attempted to obtain the police department’s criminal investigation file but was prevented from doing so because the case against the driver was still open.

Nine months after the accident, the police department’s file was turned over to the plaintiff. In the file were pictures of the accident scene. Specifically, there were pictures of a sign that may have obstructed a motorist’s view of pedestrians where the plaintiff’s son was struck. The sign was on school property, but it had been taken down in the time between the accident and the trial.

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Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a product liability case, discussing the spoliation doctrine and how it should be applied when evidence was destroyed by a party before trial. In the case, Cooper Tire & Rubber v. Koch, the court determined that the plaintiff’s destruction of certain evidence that was relevant to her product liability case against the defendant was not a violation of the spoliation doctrine and did not require the court to impose sanctions against her.

TiresThe Facts of the Case

Koch was driving eastbound on Interstate 16 in a Ford Explorer when his tire blew out. The blow-out caused Koch to lose control of the vehicle, ultimately ending in an accident that seriously injured Koch. After the accident, Koch was taken to the intensive care unit for recovery.

While her husband was in the hospital, Mrs. Koch received a call from the towing company, telling her that she was incurring a daily storage fee for her husband’s vehicle. She explained that she could not afford the fee. The owner of the towing company told her that she could sign the title over to him so that he could sell the totaled vehicle for scrap to satisfy her debt. She discussed this with her husband, who agreed but asked that the towing company owner “save the tires.” Shortly after this, Koch died, and his wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.

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The judicial system in most states consists of three levels of courts, including in Georgia. The lowest court, where a trial is held, initially determines which evidence is admissible and makes rulings on issues of law that arise during the trial. The trial court also hears all post-trial motions from both parties. The intermediate court, often called a court of appeals, is the first level of review if a litigant believes that the trial judge made an incorrect ruling of law. Finally, the highest court in the state, usually called the supreme court, hears the next level of appeals. Most often, a state supreme court’s decision on an issue of state law is final and unreviewable.

GavelBy far, trial courts hear the most cases. As a case moves up through the appellate process, courts take on fewer cases. Since there are so many cases in which litigants seek appellate review, courts enact strict rules that must be followed before a case can be reviewed. This ensures that only the most diligent litigants obtain a review of their case. One very important rule of appellate review is that a litigant seeking appellate review must have objected to the alleged error at trial. If a litigant fails to object below, the appellate court will generally dismiss the appeal. A recent case illustrates how the application of this strict principle can prevent appellate review of even seemingly meritorious issues.

Small v. Sayre:  The Facts

Mr. Small was driving a car with his wife and daughter when they were rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light. The Smalls filed a personal injury case against the other driver, Sayre, who conceded that the accident was his fault but argued that the accident was not the cause of the injuries sustained by the Smalls.

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When someone purchases an insurance policy, they are essentially entering into a contract with the insurance company. In return for the premium paid by the insured, the insurer will cover certain costs that are outlined in the insurance policy. In auto insurance policies, these costs are usually related to property damage and personal injuries.

Signing a ContractSometimes, however, an insurance company will not agree with the insured on how much the insured should receive on a claim. For example, if an insurance company disagrees with an estimate to repair a car damaged in a car accident, the insurance company may only offer a portion of what the insured spent on the repairs. In some cases, an insurance company will outright deny the claim, refusing to pay anything at all. In Georgia, when an insurance company fails to engage in a good-faith effort to settle a claim, they may be subject to additional damages under what is essentially a breach-of-contract theory. A recent case illustrates one woman’s bad-faith claim against her own insurance company.

Peden v. State Farm:  The Facts

Peden was over at a friend’s house for the friend’s birthday celebration. For her birthday, Peden’s friend had received a new car. At some point in the evening, the group of friends got into the car for what they thought would be a photo op. However, once they were all in, the friend’s fiancé got into the driver’s seat and took the car for a joy ride. He was intoxicated.

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Whenever an accident is caused by a driver who is “on the clock,” there is always the potential issue of employer liability under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is an old Latin term that translates to “let the master answer,” and it has been applied by courts across the country to hold employers responsible for the negligent actions of their employees in some circumstances.

Damaged Red CarOf course, not every accident involving an employee can be attributed to their employer. Several criteria must be met in order for the doctrine to apply. Generally speaking, the accident must have occurred while the employee was performing a work-related task. Also, the doctrine will only apply to true employees rather than independent contractors. A recent case illustrates the difficulty in determining whether conduct is within an employee’s scope of employment.

Fountain v. Karim:  An Employee Causes an Accident in the Employer’s Vehicle

Karim worked for the federal government. Since he was assigned to a remote location, he was provided with a vehicle to use while he was at the remote office. However, Karim would generally use his own vehicle to get to and from the remote office. Karim was prohibited from using the work vehicle for personal use unless he had his supervisor’s written permission. However, several times in the past, Karim had obtained verbal authorization from his supervisor before using the car and then obtained formal written consent upon his safe return.

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A tragic crash earlier this month has taken the life of one University of Georgia student and left two others seriously injured after a driver crossed into oncoming traffic and struck three bicyclists who were approaching head-on.  According to a local news report discussing the crash, the 31-year-old driver of the SUV was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs and charged with a first-degree felony homicide charge as a result of the crash.  Although the driver initially blamed the crash on her trying to use a cell phone while driving, a statement she made to police during their investigation resulted in the DUI charge being pursued.

One Way SignDistracted or Intoxicated Driver Crosses into Oncoming Traffic and Strikes Three Bicyclists.

According to the news report, the crash occurred when the defendant, who was driving an SUV, became distracted and crossed into oncoming traffic on an Athens road near the UGA campus.  The three bicyclists were riding together in the opposite direction in a single-file line and were struck by the defendant’s vehicle.  One of the bikers was hit directly head-on by the SUV and died at the scene, while the other two suffered glancing blows from the vehicle that resulted in their crashing and suffering serious injuries.  According to the article, the crash is still under investigation, although the defendant has been arrested and charged with DUI as well as a homicide charge for her role in the fatal crash.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the owner of a Mazda Miata against the car’s manufacturer. In the case, Holiday Motor Corporation v. Walters, the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer breached an implied warranty of merchantability by not creating a soft-top convertible that was capable of withstanding a rollover crash. Ultimately, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claims and imposed judgment for the defendant car manufacturer, based on the fact that the manufacturer did not have a duty to create a soft-top convertible capable of withstanding a rollover crash.

MiataThe Facts of the Case

Walters was driver her 1995 Mazda Miata on a two-lane road when she noticed a large object fall off the truck in front of her. In an attempt to avoid the object, Walters steered the car to the left, across the oncoming lane of traffic, and off the side of the road. As the car left the roadway, it traveled up a slight incline that caused the vehicle to roll over. Eventually, the car came to a stop with the car upside down leaning partially against a tree.

A good Samaritan stopped to render assistance to Walter, who was trapped inside. He testified at trial that when he arrived on the scene, the car was lying flat on the ground upside down. Only the rear of the car was slightly elevated. Walters sustained serious back and neck injuries as a result of the accident, and she filed a product liability case against Mazda. She argued that the soft-top convertible should have been able to maintain its integrity during the accident.

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