Direct action statutes in Georgia trucking accident lawsuits

This article by Gwinnett County trucking accident attorney Richard Armond is intended to provide information Georgia’s “direct action” statutes. These statutes are used in trucking / 18-wheeler / tractor-trailer accident cases and in other commercial vehicle cases by Georgia attorneys to name insurance companies directly in lawsuits. This article will explain why that is important, given that Georgia trucking accident cases often involve serious injury or wrongful death actions. Trial lawyer Richard Armond, based in Gwinnett County, is available to handle trucking accident cases throughout metro Atlanta and the entire State of Georgia.

What effect may the named party or parties in a lawsuit have on the amount of a jury verdict?

In a typical Georgia lawsuit for wrongful death or personal injury, even when the defendant has insurance coverage for the damages and is being defended by the insurance company’s lawyers, the lawsuit cannot name the insurance company as a party and the jury never knows that the defendant being sued is actually covered for any verdict by insurance. As a practical matter this may keep jury verdicts lower than they should be. Twelve jurors sometimes see a person or small business as a defendant and believe the defendant may lose everything if they award a large verdict. The jury would reach a much different and fairer result if they knew an insurance company would, in fact, be covering the judgment. While a jury should simply decide what the plaintiff’s damages are rather than how a defendant will pay the judgment, jurors are humans and think about things like this.

What are the “direct action” statutes under Georgia law for trucking accident lawsuits?

Trucking accident cases in Georgia are different, however, than typical personal injury lawsuits where the fact of insurance coverage is kept from the jury. Two main statutes comprise the “direct action” laws in Georgia.

First is O.C.G.A. § 40-2-140. This statute involves Georgia’s administration of the federal Unified Carrier Registration Act of 2005. At subsection (d)(4) of the statute the law provides:

“Any person having a cause of action, whether arising in tort or contract, under this Code section may join in the same cause of action the motor carrier and its insurance carrier.”

A “motor carrier” is defined under Georgia law at O.C.G.A. § 40-2-1(6) as:

"(A) Any entity subject to the terms of the Unified Carrier Registration Agreement pursuant to 49 U.S.C. Section 14504a whether engaged in interstate or intrastate commerce, or both; or

(B) Any entity defined by the commissioner or commissioner of public safety who operates or controls commercial motor vehicles as defined in 49 C.F.R. Section 390.5 or this chapter whether operated in interstate or intrastate commerce, or both."

The second “direct action” statute is O.C.G.A. § 40-1-112 which provides in subsection (c):

“It shall be permissible under this part for any person having a cause of action arising under this part to join in the same action the motor carrier and the insurance carrier, whether arising in tort or contract.”

In other words, the "direct action" statutes under Georgia law allow a plaintiff to sue a motor carrier’s insurance company directly and name the insurance company in the a lawsuit. The important fact of insurance coverage is not hidden from the jury.

Why are the “direct action” statutes important in Georgia trucking accident cases?

The simple answer is that a verdict may be for a higher and fairer amount. In theory jury verdicts may be higher when a jury knows an insurance company is responsible for a loss and the jury will thus award what they truly believe the damages are rather than worrying about whether they will, for example, be bankrupting a small family owned trucking company.

Conclusion:

The sum and substance is that in trucking accident cases Georgia law allows plaintiffs to name insurance companies directly when filing a lawsuit. This, in theory, will result in fairer judgments for victims in serious injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

This is, however, but a brief summary of the “direct action” statutes. Lawyers defending trucking companies and their insurance companies argue distinctions between interstate and intrastate motor carriers regarding the applicability of these statutes. Further, there are other defense arguments such as exemptions from the statutes. A lawyer should be used when suing a trucking company to navigate all of the nuances of the law in this area.

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If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or loss in a trucking accident, please contact injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.