Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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In the Fall of 2016, Lakenin Morris was driving his older cousin Keith Stroud’s car when he collided with a car driven by 18-year-old Alonzo Reid, sending Reid to the hospital. Morris had been drinking with Stroud, and Stroud asked Morris to drive his car and gave him the keys even though Morris was obviously drunk and Stroud knew that Morris was drunk, did not have a valid driver’s license, and had a habit of recklessness. Morris later pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI). Reid sued Morris for negligence and Stroud for negligent entrustment, and both were found liable for Reid’s injuries (Morris by default and Stroud by summary judgment). In a bench trial, the court awarded Reid more than $23,000 in compensatory damages, which the court apportioned equally between the two defendants, pursuant to the then-current version of the Georgia apportionment statute. The trial court also found that Morris and Stroud acted while under the influence of alcohol and further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that they acted in a manner that showed willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, and that “entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Reid challenged the amount of punitive damages he received. The Georgia Supreme Court found OCGA 51-12-5.1(f) did not categorically bar an award of punitive damages against Stroud, because the term “active tort-feasor,” as used in the statute, was not necessarily limited to drunk drivers. The trial court therefore erred in finding that it was categorically prohibited from considering whether Stroud was an “active tort-feasor” for purposes of analyzing the appropriateness of punitive damages under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated in part the trial court’s judgment, and remanded the case for the trial court: (1) to determine whether Stroud was intoxicated to the degree that his judgment was substantially impaired and whether he was an “active tort-feasor” within the meaning of OCGA 51-12-5.1(f); and (2) if so, to set the amount of punitive damages to be awarded against Stroud. View "Reid v. Morris et al." on Justia Law

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In late 2015, Michael Charnota was walking his dog “Katie,” who was leashed, in front of his residence in Paulding County, Georgia when a dog later identified as “Tucker” attacked and killed Katie. When Charnota carried Katie into his home, Tucker followed and attacked Charnota, seriously injuring him. Prior to the attack, Tucker had been kept on the premises of S&S Towing & Recovery, Ltd., which is located approximately 1,000 feet from Charnota’s residence and owned by Timothy and Paula Seals. On the day of the attack, Tucker had apparently escaped from the S&S Towing lot and was not on a leash or under the control of a person as required by the Paulding County Code. Charnota filed a complaint for damages against the Sealses, individually, and S&S Towing (collectively “S&S Towing”). Charnota asserted several causes of action, including a claim for liability under OCGA 51-2-7. The Georgia Supreme Court granted an interlocutory appeal in this case, expressing particular concern about whether the second sentence of OCGA 51-2-7, which provided that an animal running at large in violation of a local “leash law” was considered a “vicious” animal, violated procedural due process. On the facts of this case, the Court concluded that it did not, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "S&S Towing & Recovery, Ltd. v. Charnota" on Justia Law

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Rochelle Frett was injured when she slipped and fell at her place of employment during a scheduled lunch break. She filed a claim for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, but the State Board of Workers’ Compensation denied her claim. Frett appealed, and the superior court upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 178 SE 728 (1935), the Court of Appeals held that Frett suffered no injury compensable under the Act because she sustained her injury during a scheduled break, and her injury, therefore, did not arise out of her employment. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to reconsider Farr and reviewed the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case. The Supreme Court overruled Farr, and reversed the decision below. View "Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation" on Justia Law

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Shane Berryhill fainted and fell out of an 18-foot deer stand while hunting five days after undergoing major heart surgery. Plaintiffs Berryhill and his wife sued his surgeon, Dr. Dale Daly, and Savannah Cardiology (collectively “defendants”), claiming Daly’s negligent prescribing caused him to faint. The trial court instructed the jury on assumption of risk, and the jury returned a defense verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the instruction should not have been given. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and found there was at least slight evidence presented at trial to warrant the instruction: Berryhill knew he had just had major surgery for serious cardiac problems, and evidence (although contradicted) existed to show that he had been instructed not to engage in strenuous activity and not to lift more than ten pounds, bend, or stoop over for at least seven days after his procedure. Even though Berryhill was not informed of the specific risk of fainting, violating such explicit medical instructions immediately after major heart surgery "poses an obvious cardiovascular risk to which competent adults cannot blind themselves," and constituted the slight evidence needed here to warrant a jury instruction. Judgment was reversed. View "Daly v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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