Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Dept. of Public Safety v. Ragsdale
Matthew Ragsdale filed this personal injury action against the Georgia Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) after he was injured during an October 31, 2014 motor vehicle accident that occurred when Ross Singleton, the driver of another vehicle, fled from law enforcement. Ragsdale sent an ante litem notice to the Department of Administrative Services (“DOAS”) on December 3, 2014. The notice provided on that date failed to include all the information required by OCGA 50-21-26 (a) (5). Ragsdale filed suit, but dismissed this initial filing based on the deficiency of his first ante litem notice. Thereafter, in March 2017, Ragsdale sent a second ante litem notice to DOAS. Ragsdale then renewed the action, and [DPS] filed its motion to dismiss the appeal, contending that the March 2017 ante litem notice was untimely. In response, Ragsdale argued that because he was the victim of Singleton’s crime, the time for filing the ante litem notice had been tolled “from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated” pursuant to OCGA 9-3-99. The trial court agreed and denied the motion to dismiss in a single-sentence order, citing Ragsdale's arguments in response to the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of DPS’s motion to dismiss, following cases in which that court had previously “determined that limitation period tolling statutes apply to the period for filing ante litem notice as well as for filing suit.” The Georgia Supreme Court found the Georgia Tort Claims Act's ante litem notice period was not subject to tolling under OCGA 9-3-99. View "Dept. of Public Safety v. Ragsdale" on Justia Law
Lee v. Smith, II
In a personal injury case, the trial court excluded the testimony of an expert defense witness, reasoning that the expert had “not [been] properly identified within the parameters of the scheduling order.” The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Georgia Supreme Court granted the defendant’s petition for a writ of certiorari to answer whether: (1) a trial court could exclude an expert witness solely because the witness was identified after the deadline set in a scheduling, discovery, and/or case management order; and (2) If not, what factors should a trial court consider when exercising its discretion whether to exclude an expert witness who was identified after the deadline set in a scheduling, discovery, and/or case management order? The Court concluded the answer to (1) was “no,” and with respect to (2), the Court concluded that when a trial court exercises its discretion in a civil case to determine whether to exclude a late-identified witness, it should consider: (1) the explanation for the failure to disclose the witness; (2) the importance of the testimony; (3) the prejudice to the opposing party if the witness is allowed to testify; and (4) whether a less harsh remedy than the exclusion of the witness would be sufficient to ameliorate the prejudice and vindicate the trial court’s authority. Based on these answers, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and remanded this case with direction that the Court of Appeals vacate the trial court’s ruling and remand to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Lee v. Smith, II" on Justia Law
Collins et al. v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, P.A.
Plaintiffs alleged in 2016, an anonymous hacker stole the personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and health insurance details, of at least 200,000 current and former patients of Athens Orthopedic Clinic (“the Clinic”) from the Clinic’s computer databases. The hacker demanded a ransom, but the Clinic refused to pay. The hacker offered at least some of the stolen personal data for sale on the so-called “dark web,” and some of the information was made available, at least temporarily, on Pastebin, a data-storage website. The Clinic notified plaintiffs of the breach in August 2016. Each named plaintiff alleges that she has “spent time calling a credit reporting agency and placing a fraud or credit alert on her credit report to try to contain the impact of the data breach and anticipates having to spend more time and money in the future on similar activities.” Plaintiffs sought class certification and asserted claims for negligence, breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment, seeking damages based on costs related to credit monitoring and identity theft protection, as well as attorneys’ fees. They also sought injunctive relief under the Georgia Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“UDTPA”), and a declaratory judgment to the effect that the Clinic must take certain actions to ensure the security of class members’ personal data in the future. The Clinic filed a motion to dismiss based on both OCGA 9-11-12 (b) (1) and OCGA 9-11-12 (b)(6), which the trial court granted summarily. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the injury plaintiffs alleged they suffered was legally cognizable. Because the Court of Appeals held otherwise in affirming dismissal of plaintiffs’ negligence claims, the Supreme Court reversed that holding. Because that error may have affected the Court of Appeals’s other holdings, the Court vacated those other holdings and remanded the case. View "Collins et al. v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, P.A." on Justia Law
Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Hartry et al.
On June 16, 2010, crossing gates were down at a public railway-roadway crossing -- a position that normally indicated: (1) a train was approaching the crossing; (2) a railway was performing maintenance; or (3) they were malfunctioning. As Marvin Johnson, Jr. approached the railroad crossing driving his 28-foot-long truck with attached dumpster, he saw that the gates were down but cars were driving around the gates and over the crossing. Johnson followed suit, driving around the crossing gates into the path of an oncoming train on which Winford Hartry was serving as engineer. Hartry was injured as a result of the collision. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Winford Hartry’s claim under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) was precluded by regulations issued pursuant to the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Because the Supreme Court concluded that FRSA and its regulations did not preclude Hartry’s FELA claim, it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Hartry et al." on Justia Law
Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC
In Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, 813 SE2d 441 (2018), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of MP Spring Lake (“Spring Lake”) on two premises-liability tort claims brought by Pamela Langley. While a lawful tenant of Spring Lake Apartments in Morrow, Georgia, Langley fell in a common area of the complex when her foot got caught and slid on a crumbling portion of curb. She later made claims of negligence and negligence per se due to Spring Lake’s alleged failure to repair the curb despite being aware of its disrepair. Spring Lake asserted, as one of its defenses, that Langley’s claims were barred by a contractual limitation period contained within her lease. Spring Lake then moved for summary judgment on this basis, arguing that, because Langley’s lease contained a one-year limitation period for legal actions and she filed her complaint two years after the injury occurred, her claim was time-barred. Langley petitioned for certiorari, raising: (1) Does the “Limitations on Actions” provision of Langley’s lease contract apply to her premises-liability tort action against MP Spring Lake, LLC?; and (2) If so, is that provision enforceable? The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the provision was not applicable to Langley’s premises-liability tort action against Spring Lake. It therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal s and remanded for further proceedings. View "Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC" on Justia Law
Mercer University v. Stofer
Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia Law
Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co.
In 2013, a small business jet crashed into a Georgia Power Company transmission pole on Milliken & Company’s property near the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in Thomson, Georgia. The two pilots were injured and the five passengers died. In the wake of the crash, the pilots and the families of the deceased passengers filed a total of seven lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Georgia Power and Milliken. The complaints in those seven suits alleged that a transmission pole located on Milliken’s property was negligently erected and maintained within the airport’s protected airspace. The record evidence showed Georgia Power constructed the transmission pole on Milliken’s property for the purpose of providing electricity to Milliken’s manufacturing-plant expansion, and that the pole was constructed pursuant to a 1989 Easement between Georgia Power and Milliken. In each of the seven suits, Milliken filed identical cross-claims against Georgia Power, alleging that Georgia Power was contractually obligated to indemnify Milliken “for all sums that Plaintiffs may recover from Milliken” under Paragraph 12 of the Easement. Georgia Power moved for summary judgment on the crossclaims, which were granted. The trial court reasoned Paragraph 12 of the Easement operated as a covenant not to sue, rather than as an indemnity agreement, because it “nowhere contains the word ‘indemnity’” and “it is not so comprehensive regarding protection from liability.” The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to six cases. Rather than adopt the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that the provision was an indemnity agreement and affirmed the trial court by applying Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute, OCGA 13-8-2 (b), to determine that Paragraph 12 of the Easement was “void as against public policy,” a theory argued before the trial court but argued or briefed before the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in its construction and application of OCGA 13-8-2(b), vacated the judgment and remanded for the lower court to consider whether, in the first instance, the trial court’s rationale for granting Georgia Power’s motions for summary judgment and any other arguments properly before the Court of Appeals. View "Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law
Tyner v. Matta-Tronscoso
In 2014, Maria Matta-Troncoso and her husband, Mario Matta (“the Mattas”), sued Michael and Lakeisha Thornton, alleging that the Thorntons were liable under OCGA 51-2-71 for injuries that Matta-Troncoso sustained when the Thorntons’ dogs attacked her as she was walking her own dogs approximately two blocks away from the Thorntons’ rental house. The Mattas later amended their complaint by adding Gregory Tyner, the Thorntons’ landlord, alleging that he was liable under OCGA 44-7-142 for failing to keep the rental property in repair. Specifically, they alleged that Tyner failed to repair a broken gate latch that allowed the Thorntons’ dogs to escape the property and attack Matta-Troncoso. Tyner moved for summary judgment, and the trial court determined that although Tyner breached his duty to keep the premises in repair by failing to repair the broken gate latch, summary judgment was nevertheless warranted in his favor because the Mattas made no showing that the Thorntons’ dogs had ever displayed vicious propensities or that Tyner had knowledge of such tendencies. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, concluding the trial court erred in its analysis of whether Tyner had knowledge of the dogs’ vicious propensities. Citing OCGA 51-2-7, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because there was evidence that the dogs were unleashed in violation of a local ordinance, the Mattas were not required to produce evidence that “Tyner [was] aware of the dogs’ vicious propensities.” Furthermore, the appellate court concluded Tyner could be liable under OCGA 44-7-14 because that statute did not limit a landlord’s liability to injuries occurring on a leased premises, and that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Matta-Troncoso’s injuries “arose from” Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Tyner’s petition for certiorari to address a single question: Did the Court of Appeals err by reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Tyner? The Court answered that question in the affirmative, and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals. The Court determined there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch caused Matta-Troncoso’s injuries; summary judgment in Tyner’s favor was appropriate. View "Tyner v. Matta-Tronscoso" on Justia Law
First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the insurer on the insured’s failure-to-settle claim. The Court also asked the parties to address whether an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits or whether, even absent such an offer, a duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that settlement within the insured’s policy limits is possible. As to this threshold issue, the Court concluded an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits. Applying the applicable rules of contract construction to correspondence from two injured parties in the instant case, the Court concluded the injured parties presented to the insurer a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits but that the offer did not include any deadline for accepting the offer. Based on the undisputed evidence, as a matter of law, the insurer did not act unreasonably in failing to accept the offer before it was withdrawn by the injured parties. As the insurer was entitled to summary judgment, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes" on Justia Law
La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to resolve whether the trial court applied Georgia's forum non conveniens statute to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Georgia by Michigan residents against a Georgia corporation, instead of the foreign county where the underlying incident occurred. While vacationing in the Dominican Republic in 2014, Appellant Francis La Fontaine was injured in a fall from a collapsed zip-line at a course operated by Cumayasa Sky Adventures (CSA). She and her husband, Appellant Roberto Melendez, were Michigan residents and filed a tort action in Douglas County, Georgia against Appellee Signature Research, Inc. Appellee was a Georgia corporation that inspected and certified the zip-line course operated by CSA. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens saying it would submit to jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic and it would agree to extend the applicable statute of limitations period. Pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1, the trial court granted Appellee’s motion because the balance of private and public factors weighed in favor of adjudicating this matter in the Dominican Republic. The Supreme Court found that strictly construed OCGA 9-10-31.1 did not provide for dismissals of actions unless the claim should be moved to one of the other 49 states. The judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of Appellants’ action pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 was reversed. View "La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc." on Justia Law