Earlier last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a man who was injured by a drunk driver who had been given permission to use a truck owned by the company for which he worked. The injured motorist filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the driver’s employer under the theory of negligent entrustment. Ultimately, the court reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that sufficient evidence was presented to show that the employer may have known about the employee’s previous DUI convictions.

Traffic JamThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the drunk driver was operating a moving truck that belonged to his employer. While the employer’s general rule was not to allow employees to use company vehicles for personal use, the employee did obtain permission.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and his employer. During pre-trial discovery, the plaintiff became aware that the driver had a prior criminal record, including four DUIs and a charge for possession of cocaine. The plaintiff argued that the driver’s employer was negligent in allowing the employee to use the car, given this information, which was available to the employer.

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Driving is the most dangerous activity in most commuters’ day, and it requires their full attention. It is commonly understood that drivers need to remain free of intoxication and distraction, and they also need to be adequately rested before getting behind the wheel. Along those same lines, drivers who suffer from some chronic medical conditions are told by their doctors that it is unsafe for them to drive a car. A new study discussed in an insurance industry news source discusses the lasting impact that a concussion can have on a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

BrainAccording to the news article, the effects of a recent concussion on driving ability had not previously been studied, with most of the concussion-related research focusing on athletes, their performance, and the potential for long-term brain damage. This study consisted of 14 participants, all of whom had previously reported suffering from a concussion. Each of the participants was asked to come in for a driving exam 48 hours after they last noticed symptoms of their concussion. The results were frightening.

As it turns out, even 48 hours after the last recognizable signs of a concussion, drivers were still more likely to operate their vehicle in an erratic manner, much like a drunk driver. Specifically, the study reported that these drivers had less control over the vehicle and were more likely to swerve within their own lane of travel.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Virginia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that required the court to determine if the plaintiff should be entitled to a new trial after the jury found the defendant to be at fault for the car accident but awarded the plaintiff no damages. Ultimately, the court determined that the issue of damages depended in large part on the plaintiff’s own credibility and the medical evidence she presented. Since there was conflicting evidence presented about whether the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident, the court held that the jury’s verdict should stand.

Damaged HeadlightThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a minor car accident when the defendant rear-ended her. Evidently, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light when the she heard “something boom.” She looked up, and her car was lurching into the intersection. The plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt, and no part of her body came into contact with the steering wheel or dash board. The plaintiff explained that she did not suffer and bruises, cuts, or swelling, but her body “tensed up” upon impact.

After the accident, the plaintiff requested to be taken to the hospital. She was seen by doctors and soon afterward released. The plaintiff testified that she saw her primary care doctor twice after the accident but provided no evidence of the visits. She did, however, provide evidence that she went to an orthopedic center, complaining of back and shoulder pain, 10 months after the accident. She subsequently had surgery on her shoulder.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that required the court to discuss what it termed the “superior/equal knowledge doctrine.” The court held that while a plaintiff must generally prove that the defendant had superior knowledge of the hazardous condition causing the plaintiff’s injuries, that was not the case, given the specific circumstances of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Gas PumpThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a delivery driver for a fuel company. One of his customers was the defendant gas station. This particular gas station had a strict rule that required delivery drivers to manually measure the fuel level both prior to filling the tanks as well as afterwards. In order to manually measure the tank, the driver must do so in the parking lot of the gas station. The plaintiff told the gas station manager several times that measuring the tanks in this manner was dangerous, but the manager insisted that it be done. In fact, several of the plaintiff’s colleagues had been fired on the spot for failing to comply with the manager’s directives.

On the day in question, the plaintiff was run over by a third-party customer when he was measuring the tank after he had filled it. The plaintiff then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the gas station, arguing that it should be responsible for his injuries because it negligently required that he follow dangerous protocols. In response, the gas station argued that the plaintiff knew the risks involved but continued to comply with the measuring requirements.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman who was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by the subject of a high-speed chase initiated by police. In the case, Agrabrite v. Neer, the court concluded that since the police officers’ actions were not “wanton or reckless conduct,” the officers were entitled to government immunity.

Police CarThe Facts of the Case

Agrabrite was seriously injured when her car was struck head-on by another motorist’s vehicle. At the time of the collision, the other motorist was being chased by police on suspicion of having committed a burglary. The fleeing suspect died in the car accident. Agrabrite filed a personal injury lawsuit against the police department.

Agrabrite knew that she would have to overcome the presumptive immunity that exists to protect government officials, so in her complaint, she alleged that the police officers’ actions were “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious.” Under the applicable state law, if the court determined that the officers’ conduct was “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious,” government immunity would not apply to the officers, and the case could proceed to a trial at which a jury may find the officers liable for Agrabrite’s injuries.

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Last month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion in a car accident case showing how a plaintiff’s award after a favorable personal injury case can be reduced – sometimes unfairly. In the case, Marciano v. Jimenez, the court ultimately determined that the plaintiff’s award should not be reduced due to the right of subrogation, which may result in the insurance company seeking payment from the plaintiff for previously paid benefits.

Wrecked CarThe Right of Subrogation

After an accident, medical costs are usually incurred. Often, an insurance company, or some other “collateral source,” will pay for these costs. Later, if the injured party seeks compensation for their injuries through a personal injury lawsuit and is successful, they will receive compensation for these very same injuries.

Some of that compensation may be designated for the pain and suffering caused as a result of the accident, but other amounts will likely be awarded to reimburse the injured party for the cost of the medical treatment they needed following the accident. If a collateral source paid these medical bills, that party may seek reimbursement from the injured party. This is called subrogation. A recent case serves as a good example.

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All personal injury cases must be filed within a certain amount of time. However, plaintiffs filing certain cases against a public or government entity must also provide notice to the defendant within a much shorter amount of time in order to preserve their right to compensation. In a recent case in front of a state appellate court, the burden-shifting framework of establishing “substantial prejudice” is discussed in the context of whether a plaintiff should be permitted to proceed with a case against a public defendant that was not provided timely notice of the claim.

CrosswalkNewcomb v. Middle Country School District

Newcomb, a 16-year-old boy, was struck by a hit-and-run motorist as he was attempting to cross the street near a school. The driver was later arrested. Immediately after the accident, Newcomb’s family notified the school. The family also sent an investigator to the scene of the accident to take pictures. A month later, Newcomb asked the police department for the file it had created throughout the investigation of the accident. However, since the case was still open, Newcomb was unable to obtain the file until five months had passed.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the wife of a man who died when one of the tires on his Ford Explorer blew out on the highway. In the case, Cooper Rubber & Tire v. Koch, the court had to determine if the plaintiff’s destruction of potentially relevant physical evidence before trial should result in her being prohibited from admitting the blown-out tire into evidence. Ultimately, the court determined that at the time the plaintiff destroyed the evidence, litigation was not foreseeable, and thus a duty to preserve the evidence did not exist.

TireThe Facts of the Case

Mr. Koch was involved in an accident while driving on Interstate 16 after one of his tires blew out. While Mr. Koch was hospitalized and in intensive care, the towing company that removed his totaled vehicle from the scene of the accident told his wife that they were incurring a daily storage fee for the vehicle. Mrs. Koch told her husband of the offer, and the two agreed to sign the title over to the towing company to satisfy her debt. Mr. Koch told his wife to make sure that the towing company “saves the tires.” However, the towing company only saved the blown out tire and discarded the three other tires, all four wheels, and the rest of the vehicle.

A few months later, Mr. Koch died while still in the hospital. Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Koch filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cooper Rubber & Tire, the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.

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There are almost an infinite number of causes of traffic accidents. While many accidents are caused by the negligence of one or more motorists, sometimes the way a road or intersection is designed is so dangerous that the government can be at fault for the dangerous design. However, in some cases, government entities are entitled to immunity from these lawsuits if the government followed certain procedures in designing and building the roadway. If a government is entitled to design immunity, a plaintiff’s lawsuit will be dismissed. A recent case illustrates how design immunity may be applied by a court.

City IntersectionGonzales v. City of Atwater:  The Facts

In 2010, Gonzales was struck and killed by a vehicle in an Atwater intersection as he was crossing the road. Gonzales’ family filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the City of Atwater as well as against the driver of the vehicle that struck Gonzales.

Throughout the trial, the city argued that it should be dismissed from the lawsuit because it was entitled to design immunity. Specifically, the city argued that it had relied on a study that was commissioned back in 2001 on how to make the intersection safer. The study came back with several suggestions, which the city implemented. Notwithstanding the city’s arguments, the trial court denied the city’s motions seeking dismissal. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury determined that the other driver was not at fault for the accident and that the City of Atwater was liable. The plaintiffs were awarded $3.2 million.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alaska issued an opinion in a car accident case brought by the driver and passengers of one vehicle against the at-fault driver of another vehicle. In the case, Small v. Sayre, the court imposed a strict but consistently applied rule of appellate procedure that prevents an appellate court from reviewing issues to which no party objected during trial. Thus, as a result of the court’s most recent opinion, the plaintiffs will not be permitted to proceed with their appeal, and they will be stuck with the award.

Crashed CarThe Facts of the Case

The Smalls and their young daughter were idling at a traffic light when they were rear-ended by the defendant. After the accident, each of the Smalls suffered various medical conditions they attributed to the accident. Notably, Mrs. Small was told that she would need surgery for her herniated disc, but she had not yet had the surgery performed due to the cost. About a year and a half after the accident, the Smalls filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

At trial, the defendant conceded that he was negligent in the operation of his vehicle but contested causation. Essentially, the defendant admitted that he was at fault for the collision but argued that his negligence – and the subsequent accident – was not the cause of the plaintiffs’ medical conditions.

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