Georgia Governor Signs into Law a Fixed School Bus Safety Statute

Today in Atlanta, the Governor of Georgia signed a bill fixing last year’s school bus passing law, according to a report by WSB-TV. A full reading of the text of Senate Bill 25 can be found on the Georgia General Assembly’s website.

The bill amends O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163, which last year written in a manner that made it no longer a violation to pass a school bus (when loading or unloading children) from the opposite direction of travel when on a road divided by a center center turn lane.

That has been fixed as the problematic language has been deleted from the statute. Now, it is against the law again in Georgia to pass a school bus from the opposite direction when it is loading or unloading children on all roads except in the situation where it occurs “with separate roadways that are separated by a grass median, unpaved area, or physical barrier need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on the separate roadway or upon a controlled access highway when the school bus is stopped in a loading zone which is a part of or adjacent to such highway and where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway." O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b) (2019).

This law went effect immediately, so as of earlier this morning, February 15, 2019, safety measures in the law appear to be restored in Georgia. Hopefully, this fixed law will prevent tragic wrongful deaths and injuries for Georgia’s children.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia automobile or pedestrian wreck, please contact Gwinnett County based personal 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.

How to Settle a Personal Injury Claim for a Minor Child in Georgia

No parent ever wants to experience his or her child being seriously injured because of someone’s negligence. Should you have to pursue an insurance claim or a lawsuit on behalf of your child, Georgia has some special rules governing how personal injury cases involving minor victims (children under the age of 18) are settled.

When a minor child is injured and someone is at fault, a personal injury attorney will typically send the at-fault party and/or his insurance company a demand letter in an attempt to settle the claim. If a fair settlement is not reached through a demand letter and negotiations, or when circumstances such as time considerations dictate, a personal injury lawyer will file a lawsuit (see the prior post “Filing a Lawsuit on Behalf of a Minor Child in Georgia” for more info on who can file a lawsuit on behalf of a minor in Georgia). What happens in Georgia cases involving injured minors when a settlement is reached either before or after the filing of a lawsuit?

This blog post answers the question of what happens in the event a personal injury settlement is reached on behalf of a minor child in Georgia.

In a typical case when a settlement is agreed upon the insurance company and/or the defendant will send a release to the plaintiff. By signing the release the plaintiff agrees to settle the case in accordance with the financial payment terms and to release the defendant from further liability. When a minor is the plaintiff, however, the law does not always allow for such a simple process. The law differs when minors are involved based on the amount of the settlement.

It is important in reading below to understand that the law in Georgia defines “gross settlement” as “the present value of all amounts paid or to be paid in settlement of the claim, including cash, medical expenses, expenses of litigation, attorney's fees, and any amounts paid to purchase an annuity or other similar financial arrangement.” O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (a). When speaking of the value of settlements below I am speaking in terms of “gross settlement” as defined by Georgia law and which includes all of the items listed above.

When the gross settlement is more than $15,000.00:

All personal injury settlements on behalf of a minor in Georgia in which the gross settlement amount is more than $15,000.00 require court approval to finalize the agreement regardless of whether a lawsuit has been filed. O.C.G.A. §§ 29-3-3 (d) and (e). Typically, court approval will be petitioned for in probate court in cases in which no lawsuit has been filed, and, in cases in which a lawsuit has been filed, it must be done in the court where the lawsuit is pending. Id.

In many cases involving settlements on behalf of minors in which the amount is $15,000.00 or more, there must be a conservator in place before any court will approve the settlement.

  • When a conservator is required: When the gross settlement is for $15,000.00 or more and when subtracting out attorney's fees, expenses of litigation, and medical expenses which shall be paid from the settlement proceeds, the present value of amounts to be received by the minor after reaching the age of majority (18) is still $15,000.00 or more, then a conservator must be in place before any court will approve the settlement. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (g). The guardian of the minor must file a petition in probate court to become conservator and then once appointed as conservator he or she asks the appropriate court (probate if no lawsuit was filed, the court where the lawsuit is pending if a lawsuit was filed) to approve the terms of the settlement.

  • When a conservator is not required: In cases in which the gross settlement is for $15,000.00 or more and when subtracting out attorney's fees, expenses of litigation, and medical expenses which shall be paid from the settlement proceeds, the present value of amounts to be received by the minor after reaching the age of majority (18) comes out to less than $15,000.00, then no conservator is required. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (f). In this scenario the guardian may petition the appropriate court (probate if no lawsuit was filed, the court where the lawsuit is pending if a lawsuit was filed) to approve the terms of the settlement without first becoming a conservator.

When the gross settlement is $15,000.00 or less:

When a gross settlement has been reached for personal injuries to a minor and the amount is $15,000.00 or less, Georgia law allows the guardian of a minor to settle the claim withoutfirst becoming a conservator and without the approval of any court. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (c).

Personal injury cases involving injured minors in Georgia can be complex and an attorney experienced in navigating through both the traditional litigation process as well as the probate court process is a necessity. Attorney Richard Armond is experienced in handling personal injury cases on behalf of minors in Georgia.

If you are the parent or guardian of a minor who was injured or killed as a result of someone’s negligence, please contact Gwinnett County based personal 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.

The Definitive Guide to Georgia's New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law

HB 673 Signed by Georgia Governor; New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, Explained

Today Governor Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 673, the Hands-Free Georgia Act, Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law. This blog post, by serious injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard C. Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, offers an in-depth explanation of the new law. The Armond Firm, LLC, is based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, near the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center, and handles cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. Please remember this post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

HB 673 Amends Three Georgia Code Sections and Repeals Two Others

Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 and goes into effect on July 1, 2018. HB 673 significantly amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 which currently criminalizes failing to use due care while operating a motor vehicle, but specifically allows for "proper use of a mobile telephone" except as prohibited in O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2. HB 673 completely repeals O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2, effective July 1, 2018, and amends or puts in place a new hands-free distracted driving law at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, also effective July 1, 2018.

HB 673 also amends O.C.G.A. § 40-5-57, which sets the points assessed against driver's licenses for various traffic offenses. Effective July 1, 2018, a first violation of the new hands-free distracted driving law at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 will be a one point violation, a second violation will assess two points, and a third or subsequent violation will assess three points to a person's driver's license. This appears to be for lifetime violations such that the points will increase up to a third lifetime violation of the hands-free distracted driving law regardless of how far in the past other violations occurred.

Additionally, HB 673 amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-165, relating to the use of "wireless communication devices" while operating school buses. Essentially, school bus drivers cannot use a "wireless communication device" for any reason while loading or unloading passengers, and they cannot use them while a bus is in motion unless the use is similar to a two-way radio for the purpose of communicating with school officials or public safety officials.

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Georgia's New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law Explained

To begin understanding Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241), we must understand the definitions of various devices used in the statute.

Definitions:

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(3):

"'Wireless telecommunications device' means a cellular telephone, a portable telephone, a text-messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand-alone computer, a global positioning system receiver, or substantially similar portable wireless device that is used to initiate or receive communication, information, or data. Such term shall not include a radio, citizens band radio, citizens band radio hybrid, commercial two-way radio communication device or its functional equivalent, subscription based emergency communication device, prescribed medical device, amateur or ham radio device, or in-vehicle security, navigation, or remote diagnostics system."

Essentially, any type of cell phone, smart phone, flip phone, etc., is included in the definition. Further, laptop computers, tablet computers/iPads, and GPS systems which are not "in-vehicle" (presumably meaning permanently installed, but this may be a source of litigation regarding vagueness) are also included in the definition. However, some more old fashioned forms of electronic communications such as CB radios and systems which are "in-vehicle" are not included in the definition. 

Further, under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(1):

"'Stand-alone electronic device' means a device other than a wireless telecommunications device which stores audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user."

A "stand-alone electronic device" means anything which stores audio or video that can be viewed immediately, such as an iPod or MP3 player, a GoPro, or for those older readers it would include Walkmans, Discmans, camcorders, etc.

These pertinent definitions are important to understand exactly what is prohibited in the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law.

What is now illegal under Georgia law (effective July 1, 2018)?

  1. Anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle. The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) requires, "[a] driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle." In other words, regardless of whether a cell phone or other device is used at all it is a violation of Georgia law for a driver to take part in any action which distracts her from driving safely. This would include anything such as turning around to discipline children, doing makeup, eating a cheeseburger, etc., IF the action distracts her from driving safely (a case in Georgia was dismissed several years ago when a driving was cited for eating a cheeseburger while driving--the issue was proof that that driver was driving unsafely--these types of actions are not per se unlawful, but only unlawful if a driver is being unsafe because of doing them). However, if a person can do those things while safely driving, they would arguably not be violating the law (which will be a subject of litigation)--this would especially be true if those types of actions are done while at a red light or when the car is technically being operated but stationary. 

  2. The mere act of holding within a person's hand a cell phone (or any "wireless telecommunications device" as defined above) or any other device to store audio or video which can be accessed on demand (so long as defined as a "stand-alone electronic device" above). This where the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law has its teeth and differs from the old law. As of July 1, 2018, a driver cannot even hold his cell phone in his hand at all while his vehicle is in operation, nor support the prohibited devices with any part of his body, such as holding a phone between ear and shoulder. Operation, under already existing law, will include any time a motor vehicle's engine is on and on a roadway, regardless of whether stopped at a red light, stuck in stand-still traffic, or driving down the road. This hands-free provision will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(1). The statute does, however, allow for the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct only voice-based communication. Though not explicitly stated in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 it does not appear to prohibit receiving or placing calls from systems installed in a vehicle (as they do not appear to fit the definition of "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device") or the use of a cell phone to place or receive a call so long as the phone is not supported by the body in any way *(see below "What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?"). 

  3. Writing, sending, or reading a text (or any other written communication) on a cell phone (or any device defined above as a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device"). This provision will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(2) and makes it illegal while operating a vehicle (which, again, includes being a driver at a red light) to read a text, instant message, email, a website, or any other internet data. However, it specifically allows both sending a text by voice when a person's voice is automatically converted to text and using those devices for navigating by GPS *(see below "What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?"). Keep in mind that these devices cannot be held in a driver's hand or supported by her body in anyway while sending text by automatic voice conversion or while using GPS.

  4. Watching a video or movie while operating a vehicle while using a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device." This prohibition is found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(3). This subsection specifically allows, however, watching data related to the navigation of a vehicle.

  5. Recording or broadcasting a video on a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device." O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(4). However, this subsection specifically allows electronic devices used solely for continuously recording or broadcasting video, i.e., you can use dash cams to record your trip, and onboard computers which record your every movement (most new cars have this built in) are also lawful. 

Special Provisions for Drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles

The definition of a "commercial motor vehicle" can be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(8.3) and, generally, involves vehicles used in commerce over a certain weight, passenger capacity, or which transport hazardous materials. When driving a "commercial motor vehicle" the new law, in addition to the prohibitions applicable to all drivers, also makes unlawful at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d):

  1. Using more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication.

  2. Reaching for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device in such a manner that requires the driver to no longer be: (A) In a seated driving position; or (B) properly restrained by a safety belt.

What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?

  • Placing and receiving calls when not holding or supporting a defined device with a person's body in any way. The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 appears to intend to allow for use of on-board phone systems installed in vehicles. However, it also appears that at least as to non-commercial drivers, if a cell phone is on the seat next to a driver, he may place and answer calls so long as he does not support the phone in any way, AND so long as he does not violate the "catch-all provision" of anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b). This will potentially be a source of litigation in criminal/traffic cases, but it appears that if a driver is, for example, at a red light and stopped he would be able to place or answer a phone call from his cell phone so long as he does not hold or support the phone with his body by using the phone while it is laying next to him.
  • Use of GPS on cell phones and other like devices. The Georgia General Assembly specifically included in the definition of "wireless telecommunications device" cell phones and GPS receivers (presumed example:  Garmins and Tom-Toms) which are not "in-vehicle" and made them subject to the hands-free requirement. The General Assembly specifically excluded in-vehicle navigation from the definition, which presumably means the GPS systems permanently installed in vehicles, attempting to make some distinction between portable and "in-vehicle" GPS. While the intent of the new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 is to save lives and prevent dangerous traffic collisions, subsection (c)(2) specifically allows a driver to enter as much text as the driver wants so long as it for GPS navigation (so long as the driver is not holding or supporting the defined device), with no distinction as to the device being portable or in-vehicle under the allowed acts (so why the distinction?).

This appears to be the biggest weakness of the new law. Anyone who has used a GPS knows it can take quite a while to enter this information and can be just as much of a danger to others as texting and driving. OF VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:  it is definitely clearly still illegal to support in one's hand or body a cell phone or any other portable GPS receiver while operating a vehicle, but subsection (c)(2) would allow for using a cell phone or portable GPS while operating a vehicle so long as, for example, the device is laying on the seat or mounted to the dashboard. ALSO OF IMPORTANT NOTE:  Even when using a cell phone or portable GPS and not holding or supporting the device, it will still be illegal to violate the catch-all of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) to do "anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle."

In criminal/traffic prosecutions, the State will likely not have to prove that a driver was not otherwise lawfully using his GPS on his cell phone--this appears to be akin to an affirmative defense which a person charged could assert, and, if asserted, the State would then have to disprove it. See May v. State, 179 Ga. App. 736 (1986). However, in most traffic citation cases the police are not going to have access to see what was actually happening on a cell phone at the time they observed a potential violation unless a driver gives consent or the police obtain a search warrant to look into the phone. The State may not have evidence to disprove such an affirmative defense if one is truthfully asserted. This may slightly take away some of the teeth of the new statute in prosecutions, but definitely weakens the prevention aspect as drivers can enter info into a GPS so long as not violating the hands-free/support subsection or the catch-all due care/distraction provision.

What additional actions are specifically legal under the new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241?

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(g) specifically allows the following four uses of a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device" with one major exception to these allowances:

"(1) While reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, an actual or potential criminal or delinquent act, or road condition which causes an immediate and serious traffic or safety hazard;

(2) By an employee or contractor of a utility services (defined at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(2) to basically include what we commonly know as utilities) provider acting within the scope of his or her employment while responding to a utility emergency;

(3) By a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, ambulance driver, or other similarly employed public safety first responder during the performance of his or her official duties; or

(4) While in a motor vehicle which is lawfully parked (again, being stopped at a red light is included in the operation of a vehicle and is not considered being parked)."

However, the major exception is that these acts are not exempt from the catch-all provision of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) which basically prohibits anything which distracts from the safe operation of a motor vehicle. In other words, it is still against Georgia law to, for example, call 911 while driving to report a crime in progress if it distracts from the safe operation of the car.

Punishments:

In addition to the points on a driver's license explained above, violating any part of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 is a misdemeanor. 

  • a first offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $50.00 fine
  • a second offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $100.00 fine
  • a third or subsequent offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $150.00 fine

However, the law allows for first time a person is charged with violating O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 for the person to be found not guilty if she produces in court a device or proof of purchase of a device which allows for compliance with the statute in the future (example:  earpiece for hands-free calling). It is extremely important to note that anyone taking advantage if this provision must affirm she has not previously used the provision. Along with that, one should know that making a false statement in an official governmental matter or perjuring oneself are both felony crimes which a person might face if caught making this affirmation more than once.

Conclusion

The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 appears to be a significant improvement in terms of making Georgia's roads safer by making our state a "hands-free" state to combat distracted driving. According to the CDC, approximately nine people are killed and over 1,000 are injured each day in the United States because of car crashes involving a distracted driver. In 2015 alone 3,477 lives were lost and 391,000 people were injured in United States automobile crashes involving a distracted driver. Let's hope this new law will make our roads safer and protect the lives of everyone on Georgia's roadways.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or a loved one was lost in a traffic collision, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation or fill in your contact info here

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.

Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

Filing a Lawsuit on Behalf of a Minor Child in Georgia

This blog post by Richard Armond, a personal injury and wrongful death attorney with The Armond Firm, LLC, a Gwinnett County law practice based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, discusses who can file suit when a minor child suffers an injury because the negligence or bad act of another.

O.C.G.A. § 9-11-17

A minor, for the purposes of Georgia's Civil Practice Act, is anyone under the age of 18 years. If a minor suffers a personal injury because of another's negligence or bad act the law provides the method for the minor to pursue a lawsuit. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-17(c) states:

"(c) Infants or incompetent persons. Whenever an infant or incompetent person has a representative, such as a general guardian, committee, conservator, or other like fiduciary, the representative may bring or defend an action on behalf of the infant or incompetent person. If an infant or incompetent person does not have a duly appointed representative, he may bring an action by his next friend or by a guardian ad litem. The court shall appoint a guardian ad litem for an infant or incompetent person not otherwise represented in an action or shall make such other order as it deems proper for the protection of the infant or incompetent person. No next friend shall be permitted to receive the proceeds of any personal action, in the name and on behalf of an infant, or incompetent person, until such next friend shall have entered into a sufficient bond to the Governor, for the use of the infant and the infant's representatives, conditioned well and fully to account for and concerning such trust, which bond may be sued on by order of the court in the name of the Governor and for the use of the infant. Such bond shall be approved by the court in which the action is commenced and such approval shall be filed in such clerk's office."

The typical way a lawsuit for personal injury to a minor child gets filed in Georgia is by having one of the parents or guardians of the child bring the complaint for damages (lawsuit) on behalf of the minor as "next friend." As you can see from the statute, any guardian, conservator, or similar type representative can bring suit on behalf of the minor. Let's say John Doe Jr. is injured in a car wreck by another driver. His father John Doe Sr. could bring suit. The complaint could be styled as John Doe Jr., a Minor, By Parent and Guardian, John Doe Sr., Plaintiff v. Bad Driver, Defendant. Many times a parent will also be named as a plaintiff individually as well, as parents can sometimes be compensated for "loss of services" of the child or for medical bills and other expenses the parents have incurred. 

Other times a guardian ad litem or other representative is needed to file suit on behalf of the minor. This is generally the case when a parent or parents may be liable for the injuries to the child. An example in a car wreck case would be when both a parent and the other driver were negligent in their driving. Some other person besides that parent is generally best for filing suit to protect the minor's rights. 

As you can also see from the statute above, the funds from any recovery in the lawsuit are for the minor child and not the parent (unless the parent has also sued individually). It is very important to take note that in any recovery of a gross amount greater than $15,000, court approval is required pursuant to O.C.G.A. §§ 29-3-2 and 29-3-3.

Lawsuits on behalf of minor children can be complex to navigate and you should always strongly consider retaining a Georgia personal injury attorney to handle the case properly.

If your child has been injured by the negligence or bad act of another in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death 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.

How to Obtain Insurance Coverage Info in Georgia under O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28

This blog post by personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, a Gwinnett County law practice based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, addresses how a plaintiff obtains the defendant's insurance coverage information to begin negotiations.

Automobile Insurance Companies

The easiest cases to begin negotiations with an insurance company for an at-fault party are car accident and trucking accident cases. Why? There is typically a Georgia motor vehicle accident report and the other side's insurance policy number is listed in the report. It is a simple matter of contacting that insurance company and then sending a letter of representation which demands the policy information. Such a letter typically will cite O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28(a)(1), which requires the insurance company to provide, upon request of the plaintiff, within 60 days of the request, and under oath, the following:

  1. disclosure of each known policy of insurance issued by it, including excess or umbrella insurance,
  2. the name of the insurer,
  3. the name of each insured, and
  4. the limits of coverage.  

Homeowners Insurance Companies

When an injured person has a claim against a homeowner, the process can be somewhat more complicated. When a person is injured because of the negligence of a homeowner, sometimes there may be no official report written by law enforcement such as there is in car accident cases. Even when an incident involves a police response, the homeowners insurance information is not something that gets reported like in car accident cases where the information has to be provided. 

A Georgia personal injury attorney will often send a letter to the homeowner demanding the insurance information similar to what is sent to auto insurance companies above. Georgia law requires under O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28(a)(2), that an insured person or company shall "within 30 days of receiving a written request from a claimant or the claimant's attorney. . .disclose to the claimant or his attorney the name of each known insurer which may be liable to the claimant upon such claim." The statute, however, does not provide a remedy to the claimant if the homeowner does not comply. The practical effect is that often the only way to get that information if a homeowner does not comply and you do not know the insurer is to file a lawsuit. That often results in the homeowner's insurance company getting involved quickly and responding to the statutory requirement of a plaintiff obtaining the information through discovery.

Other Tortfeasors/Liable Parties

When a business or some other liable party is at fault, the process is similar to the process with homeowners claims. However, larger businesses will often have in-house counsel or will at least obtain counsel upon receiving a demand for insurance information pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28(a)(2). There is also typically a registered agent to send such a demand to and the understanding of the need to comply with the law. If there is no response then the result is often an earlier than usual filing of a lawsuit much like with homeowners insurance cases.

If your or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of another in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death 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.

Charter Bus from Gwinnett Headed to Masters Wrecks, Overturns

Driver alleged to have been DUI

According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, a charter bus from Gwinnett County crashed and overturned today on its way to the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. The story reports that there were 18 passengers on board and several were taken to the hospital. Fortunately, it appears the injuries were not life threatening. The driver of the bus was alleged to have been a DUI driver at the time of the incident. As a Gwinnett County personal injury and wrongful death attorney who handles cases throughout the State of Georgia, this sad incident brings up several legal issues regarding the rights of the injured.

Federal Law Requires Minimum Insurance for a Bus with this Number of Passengers

Knowing that the bus was one which carried 16 or more passengers, under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subtitle B, Chapter III, Subchapter B, Subpart C, § 387.303 the owner/operator was required to maintain a minimum of $5,000,000 in insurance liability coverage. Hopefully, none of the non-life threatening injuries were catastrophic.

If even one person received a catastrophic injury such as paralysis, if the company had bare minimum coverage that one claim could take up all the liability coverage available. For this reason, it is very important for anyone injured in such an accident to seek an attorney immediately to assert his or her claim before policy limits are potentially exhausted.

Additionally, evidence can be collected and preserved the sooner an attorney gets to work on the case. Motor carriers and their insurance companies get to work immediately to reduce their exposure. Spoliation letters to preserve evidence and the right to inspect evidence are important tools for a plaintiff's lawyer.

Punitive Damages at Issue with DUI Allegation under Georgia Law

Another part of this case is that the driver of the bus was charged with DUI. As this blog post is based on the news report linked in the first sentence of the post I must stress that the DUI charge is an allegation only and everyone charged with a crime s presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, should a personal injury lawyer have facts to prove this allegation, punitive damages will be at issue in the case. 

Under Georgia law, when a defendant was negligent while "under the influence of alcohol, drugs other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to that degree that his or her judgment is substantially impaired," punitive damages with no cap or limit can be sought. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f). In other words, if a DUI is proven the plaintiffs are not limited to $250,000 in punitive damages as is the case with many other tort cases in Georgia. 

Let's all hope these passengers recover to good health. 

If you or a loved one have been injured in a bus wreck, DUI wreck, truck wreck, or any other type of auto accident, please contact Gwinnett County based personal 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.

Dogs Attack Three People in Gwinnett County

According to this story from Gwinnett County in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two dogs on the loose in Lawrenceville, Georgia, yesterday attacked three different people, leaving an elderly man severely injured from head to toe. As a personal injury and wrongful death lawyer in Lawrenceville, I have seen way too many of these dog bite cases recently. According to the story the owner received six citations and the dogs were euthanized.

It is important to remember that the victims, especially the elderly man who was mauled, may have a long road to recovery with substantial medical bills and pain and suffering. According the news story, the elderly man was crossing the street when the dogs attacked. This should make liability against the owner clear.

Elements of a Georgia Dog Bite Claim

I have written before on the legal elements of a dog bite lawsuit in Georgia (click here for that blog post). Those elements, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 are:

  1. A person owns OR keeps,
  2. A vicious or dangerous animal,
  3. Which the person carelessly manages OR allows the animal to go at liberty,
  4. Injury is caused by the careless management or letting the animal go at liberty, and
  5. The injured person does not provoke the injury

As explained in my earlier blog post cited above, the second element involves a plaintiff showing a vicious propensity of the animal which attacks. However the plain language of O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 contains and exception to this requirement by stating, "[in] proving vicious propensity, it shall be sufficient to show that the animal was required to be at heel or on a leash by an ordinance of a city, county, or consolidated government, and the said animal was at the time of the occurrence not at heel or on a leash."

In other words, if the dogs were running loose in violation of a local ordinance, as the AJC story seems to indicate, the vicious propensity element will be met. 

Gwinnett County's Dog Bite / Animal Running at Large Ordinance

Gwinnett county has such an ordinance. Gwinnett County code section 10-71 states:

(a) It shall be unlawful for any owner or possessor of any dog to fail to keep the dog under restraint or control as provided for in this section.

(b) A dog is considered not under restraint or control when it is running at large, whether wearing a collar and tag or not . . .

Are the Funds to Pay for a Dog Bite Victim's Recovery?

One question for the victims of yesterday's dog bite attacks will be the source of recovery. Does the dog's owner have homeowners liability insurance and/or an umbrella policy to cover the damages to these innocent victims? Dog bites are actually the number one source of homeowners insurance liability claims

Let's all hope that the victims in these Gwinnett County dog bite attacks yesterday in Lawrenceville, Georgia, are able to recover to good health. 

If you or a loved one have been the victim of a dog bite, please contact Gwinnett County based personal 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.

Georgia holding phone while driving ban set to pass

As a personal injury and wrongful death lawyer in Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia, who handles cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia, I have made frequent blog posts following this year's session of the Georgia General Assembly and the hands-free driving bill. HB 673, which bans driving while holding a phone, appears to be set to pass through the Senate for the governor's signature according to WABE

Supporters of the bill estimate it may reduce traffic fatalities by 20 percent annually, amounting to 300 lives saved on Georgia roadways each year.

The current Georgia laws combating distracted driving are often unenforceable. While O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241.2 bans sending or reading text messages, another similar statute, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, allows for the "proper use" of mobile telephones. 

In order to stop a vehicle for a violation of the law, a police officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion before activating the blue lights and using police power to effectuate a traffic stop. It is currently very hard to make such a stop when a person is allowed to dial phone numbers and look at a phone to do so. Further, even if an officer has specific facts to believe a person is texting rather than engaging in "proper use" the officer cannot look into a person's phone without either consent of the person or a search warrant (a significant hurdle on a routine traffic stop). 

The new law may make enforcement easier and cut down on dangerous distracted driving activities. This may make Georgia roads safer for everyone.

If you or a loved one would like to speak with a Georgia personal injury and wrongful death lawyer please contact Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation today.

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.

Georgia Good Samaritan Law

Georgia has a law found at O.C.G.A. § 51-1-29 which protects any person, including medical professionals, from liability when rendering emergency care in good faith at the scene of an accident or emergency to a victim. This statute is typically referred to as a "Good Samaritan Law," and it encourages people to give aid to accident victims.

The intent of the law is to allow people in Georgia to be able to render care and aid to accident victims and victims of other emergencies without fear of a future lawsuit for some mistake that is made. In other words, it encourages the giving of help by shielding Good Samaritans from liability. 

The full text of O.C.G.A. § 51-1-29 reads as follows: 

"(a) Any person, including any person licensed to practice medicine and surgery pursuant to Article 2 of Chapter 34 of Title 43 and any person licensed to render services ancillary thereto, who in good faith renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victims thereof without making any charge therefor shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.
(b) As used in this Code section, the term "emergency care" shall include, but shall not be limited to, the rescue or attempted rescue of an incapacitated or endangered individual from a locked motor vehicle." 

When a person in Georgia is injured in a car accident, trucking accident, or any type of emergency, people can render aid on scene as Good Samaritans and the law shields them from a future lawsuit. 

If you or a loved one have been injured in car or truck accident in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death 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.

When can punitive damages be awarded in a Georgia lawsuit?

Georgia Punitive Damages Law

The place to begin when researching punitive damages in Georgia personal injury and wrongful death cases is the plain language of the pertinent statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1. Punitive damages may be awarded in Georgia personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits only when there are "aggravating circumstances." See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(a). Punitive damages are not for deterring a certain type of behavior in society at large, but rather "to penalize, punish, or deter" a particular defendant. Id. This blog post by Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia, based personal injury and wrongful death trial attorney Richard Armond gives an overview of punitive damages law in Georgia. 

What evidentiary standard must be met for a Georgia jury to award punitive damages?

Clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher standard than is required for a jury to find a defendant liable for general and special damages. The typical civil standard is "preponderance of the evidence," which is a simple balancing test where if the evidence is slightly greater than 50% against a defendant then that defendant can be held liable. 

Punitive damages, however, "may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences." See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b).

Clear and convincing evidence is defined as "evidence that will cause the jury to firmly believe each essential element of the claim to a high degree of probability. Proof by clear and convincing evidence requires a level of proof greater than a preponderance of the evidence (but less than beyond a reasonable doubt). See Georgia Suggested Pattern Jury Instruction # 02.040, Fifth Edition.

Are there punitive damage caps depending on the type of Georgia personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit?

Yes.

Product Liability Cases:

In product liability cases there is no limit or cap to the amount of punitive damages which can be awarded under Georgia law. However, punitive damages can only assessed one time against a particular defendant anywhere in the State of Georgia. Further, 75% of the punitive damages awarded go to the State of Georgia, less a proportionate part of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney's fees. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(e).

A major reason for this is the policy behind punitive damages. Georgia laws states that punitive damages are awarded "not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant." O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(c).

Specific Intent to Harm Cases and Cases where the Defendant was Drunk or High:

In cases where it is shown that the defendant specifically intended to do harm (example: an assault with a baseball bat) to the plaintiff, or that the defendant was negligent while "under the influence of alcohol, drugs other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to that degree that his or her judgment is substantially impaired," no cap exists in Georgia on punitive damages. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f).

Further, no requirement exists under Georgia law in specific intent to harm/drunk and high cases in which the punitive damages get divided between the state and the plaintiff as is the case with products liability cases. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f).

Finally, punitive damages in specific intent to harm cases can only be awarded against an active tortfeaser (example: a bar knowingly serves a person too much alcohol and lets him drive drunk...only the drunk driver can have punitive damages awarded against him even if the bar is liable for its negligence under dram shop laws for general and special damages). See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f).

All other Georgia Tort Cases:

The vast majority of Georgia personal injury and wrongful death cases, however, will unfortunately fall under the catch-call category of all other Georgia tort cases not listed above. For those cases punitive damages are capped under Georgia law at $250,000. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(g).

Conclusion:

If you or a loved one are the victim in a Georgia personal injury or wrongful death case, punitive damages are something that should be explored. The complaint (the lawsuit you file) must specifically pray for the award of punitive damages or else you cannot pursue them at trial. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(d)(1). An experienced attorney is needed to handle cases with potential punitive damages so that this potential source of recovery is handled properly.

If your or a loved one have been injured or lost in a personal injury or wrongful death case in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death 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.