COVID-19 Update: How We are Serving and Protecting Our Clients.

Friends:

Today I am proud to present to you a tribute to Congressman John Lewis written by my summer law clerk, Austin Weatherly.  Austin will begin his law school journey next month as a 1L at University of Georgia School of Law. He did his undergraduate work at New York University and then spent the last few years working at Turner Broadcasting. It has been our pleasure having Austin with us this summer, sometimes in person at the office and sometimes virtually via Zoom.  I have known Austin and his family most of his life and he has proven himself to be an outstanding young man, a kind and caring person who treats others as he would have them treat him.  This will serve him well as a Georgia Lawyer. We know Austin is going to do great things at UGA Law and later in the practice of law. We will look forward to following his career. Now, enjoy his tribute honoring Congressman John Lewis.


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My name is Austin Weatherly, and I am currently serving as Robin’s law clerk. I was born into the congressional care of John Lewis. Until his passing, he had been my congressman my entire life. To me and my family he served as an example of the hard work required by a true patriot. Lewis exhibited a brand of patriotism rooted in realizing the potential and promise of America. He dreamed of a nation framed by the constitution, and built on freedom and equality. In an effort to honor John Lewis I have prepared this brief remembrance. 

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During the on-going global pandemic many states have adopted additional liability protections for the healthcare industry. Governors in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan have all signed executive orders codifying additional protections. In Georgia, Governor Kemp has signed a number of executive orders that provide different levels of legal immunity for those working to help with the state’s response to the public health emergency. Georgia’s most notable executive order regarding liability protections, was signed into action by the governor on April 14th.

Governor Kemp’s April 14th executive order offered nearly all healthcare workers and facilities the same protections as “auxiliary emergency management workers,” pursuant to O.C.G.A 38-3-35. This code offers sweeping protections against liability during a state of emergency. It states that the parties outlined cannot be held liable for death, injury, or damage to property, except in cases of willful misconduct, gross negligence, or bad faith. The specific designations of who is considered an “auxiliary emergency management worker,” are outlined in O.C.G.A. Codes, 31-7-1(4)(A), 31-7-1(4)(C)-(G) and 31-7-1(5). Based on these codes all active hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care facilities, surgical centers, testing lab facilities, birthing centers, imaging centers, or public health centers are protected. These protections went into effect upon the governor’s signature on April 14th and will be in place until the public health state of emergency ends. 

Even with executive orders in place to shield the healthcare industry from liability, Georgia lawmakers continued to work toward constructing additional protections. The Georgia house of representatives introduced House Bill 167, which offered increased protections for all Covid-19 related cases, and sought to make them permanent. This specific bill bounced between the Georgia house and senate, until many of the key considerations were absorbed into Senate Bill 359. On the final day of the legislative session SB 359 was adopted, superseding the governor’s April 14th executive order. The bill currently awaits the governor’s signature to be passed into law. Given the governor’s record, the signing of the bill should be considered a formality. 

white-volvo-semi-truck-on-side-of-road-2199293-300x200Auto accidents among passenger vehicles, especially when they occur on the interstate or freeway, can have devastating consequences for those involved. When an accident involves a large truck or tractor-trailer, though, this potential goes up exponentially. The average tractor-trailer is at least 20 times heavier than the typical passenger sedan and takes much longer to come to a complete stop. 

In addition to the increased possibility of serious injury or death with a trucking accident, there is also an increase in the number of liable parties. Who might be responsible for a trucking accident, and who will have to pay the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit? This blog will explore four possible parties. 

  1. Truck Driver. In an investigation following a trucking accident, the focus usually begins with the actions of the driver. Was he texting on his cellphone? Was he making telephone calls or in a telephone conversation? Was he or she speeding or driving recklessly at the time of the accident? Was there an effort to stop the truck right before the collision? Was the driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs or suffering from lack of sleep? These are some questions that need to be answered in an investigation. 

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The global pandemic has caused many state legal systems to declare a judicial state of emergency. The state of Georgia is currently under state of emergency protocols that are set to last through August 11, 2020.  When jury trials will restart in Georgia is any one’s guess. I just received a new Order from the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Georgia, Hon. Thomas Thrash, dated July 10, 2020, extending the Federal Judicial Order through August 30, 2020. In his Order, Chief Judge Thrash stated:

Data from the Georgia Department of Public Health reflects that the average number

of new COVID-19 cases per day in the State of Georgia has increased and remains higher

heidi-fin-2TLREZi7BUg-unsplash-300x195One important aspect of many personal injury cases is the duty of care that the defendant owed at the time of the plaintiff’s injury. That is, how responsible is the property owner or manager for the injuries suffered by the victim? To help answer this question, Georgia courts generally classify plaintiffs into one of three categories: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. 

Say you slipped and fell due to standing water outside of a business. How liable is the business for your injuries? What if your slip-and-fall occurred at your friend’s house? This blog will explore the three duty-of-care types and what it means for your personal injury case.

Invitee. This first duty of care provides plaintiffs with the greatest chance to succeed in their personal injury case if the invitee classification does apply. An invitee is someone who has either been “expressly” invited onto a property or received an implied invitation to occupy the premises for business purposes. Patrons of a retail store and residents of an apartment complex are all considered to be invitees. 

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You may remember the hoverboard craze. About 5 years ago they took the United States by storm. With demand sky-high, multiple manufacturers ramped up production to cash in, they sold their products quickly, and no one asked questions. Shortly after their meteoric rise in popularity, hoverboards began earning headlines for the wrong reasons, and gained the reputation of a defective product. They began to overheat and catch fire. The defects and malfunctions were so common that hoverboards were banned in many places, ranging from college campuses, to theme parks, to public transportation. 

In one instance, a fire caused by a defective hoverboard resulted in an entire home being burned to the ground. Similar stories are not uncommon; unfortunately, defective products can have destructive results. Often the only recourse is filing a lawsuit against the seller and/or manufacturer of the product. In the case of the Fox family, whose home was burned to the ground, they filed a lawsuit against Amazon. As the world’s largest retailer, it is not uncommon for these types of cases to be filed against Amazon. It is equally as uncommon for Amazon to be actually held responsible for their role in the sale of defective products. 

The question at the heart of the complaints filed against Amazon is often whether Amazon is actually the ‘seller’ of the defective products. I have placed the term ‘seller’ in quotes because in different jurisdictions the term, ‘seller,’ can be defined in different ways. The responsibility for the product’s defections, and the resulting injuries rest on the ‘seller’ and/or manufacturer of the product. This raises a question of distinction that the court must decide… What constitutes a ‘seller’… and more importantly is Amazon a ‘seller’? 

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This has been some week. Our Georgia Community was in the grips of disbelief and shock due to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glenn County, Georgia, hoping and praying that things could not get worse…and then they did. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has electrified the Nation to protest for Equal Justice Under Law for African-Americans, which is overdue by about 200 years. Because of these recent murders of African American males, the term of art “excessive force” has, unfortunately, wormed its way into our daily lexicon, heard as frequently now as “Facebook” or “Twitter” or “Coronavirus” (remember that?).  So let’s look at what exactly is “excessive force,” how do you bring a lawsuit for “excessive force” and how difficult are they to be successful?

First, a civil action for “excessive force” by a police officer must be brought against the individual police officer, not the police department, pursuant to a Federal Statute, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. That statute states:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.”

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I am struck today by the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court yesterday to rule that the Governor and the head of its Public Health Department did not have the authority to issue stay-at-home mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Governor of Wisconsin said, Wisconsin is now the “wild, wild west.” Chaos has already ensued in the less than 24 hours since the ruling, as predicted by Governor Tony Evers. Bars were packed last night in Wisconsin, with absolutely no social distancing (from the photos it looks like no distancing at all) and no masks being worn. World-leading scientists and epidemiologists predict this will necessarily cause a spike in Covid-19 cases and unnecessary suffering and deaths.

The first thing to note of this decision is that the case was brought by Republican Wisconsin Legislators against the Governor, so that essentially the Legislators were suing saying a bill they had passed was unconstitutional. Wait. What? How is that possible? They passed it. Surely, they can’t now file suit claiming the very thing they wrote, voted on and passed was actually unconstitutional from the get go. This turns the legislative process on its head.

The second thing to note is that this was a decision that ran along party lines in a very politicized state supreme court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative-backed majority split in the 4-3 decision, with Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Daniel Kelly, who recently lost his bid for election, Justice Annette Ziegler, and Justice Rebecca Bradley voting to overturn Palm’s order. Conservative-backed Justice Brian Hagedorn joined the court’s two liberal-backed members, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Justice Rebecca Dallet, in dissent.  You may remember that Justice Kelly, a Republican, recently ran for reelection as a Republican and even had the President of the United States come to Wisconsin and campaign for him in a unabashed political statement. Justice Kelly lost to a Democrat, Jill Karofsky but, alas, that Democrat hasn’t taken her seat on the bench yet. Otherwise, there is no question this decision would have come out the other way given the fact that even one Conservative justice sided with the dissenters. This recent election, you may recall, was another politicized decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court as it ruled that the election in April, during the height of the Coronvirus crisis, had to proceed as originally scheduled and that Wisconsin citizens had to vote in person. Undoubtedly, the Republican members of the Supreme Court thought this would hold voting down as surely folks wouldn’t want to risk their lives voting, of all things But surprise! It didn’t work, and the Liberal Democratic candidate beat the Republican candidate who POTUS personally endorsed. Karofsky credited her win to voters rising up and rejecting Republican efforts to suppress turnout. “People were willing to do that because they wanted their voices to be heard in this election,” she said. “A lot of times on election day we’re wringing our hands because we’re so upset about voter apathy. That wasn’t the problem on Tuesday. People wanted their voices heard.”

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Friends:

To say we are experiencing unprecedented times with the global pandemic of Coronavirus-COVID-19 would be a massive understatement. I hope you and your family are well, staying safe and healthy and weathering this storm. I am continuing working on all of my cases to the maximum extent I can at my home. With remote work capability, super high-speed internet and my case management system “in the Cloud,” I can work on any case from any location. I want to let you know how our Georgia Civil and Criminal Justice Systems are adapting to this season we find ourselves in and keep you up to date on all things legal in Georgia right now.

First, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton has issued a Statewide Judicial Emergency Order through 11:59 a.m April 13, 2020.  I believe Chief Justice Melton has shown great leadership with the issuance of this Order and through it, is doing the Court’s part in not spreading the virus in our courtrooms and alleviating much anxiety among litigants and lawyers.

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Today marked the last day on the job for Justice Robert Benham. That “job” being no less than serving on the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Georgia. A true pioneer, he was the second African-American graduate of UGA law school and the first to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. He is retiring after 36 years on the appellate Courts (5 on Georgia Court of Appeals and 31 on Supreme Court). Appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris in December 1989, he was the first African-American ever appointed to the Supreme Court in its more than 140 years.  He  served in the United States Army Reserve attaining the rank of captain, and served as a trial attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid among many other professional accomplishments.  A lifelong resident of Georgia, Justice Benham was born to Jesse Knox Benham and Clarence Benham in Cartersville, Georgia. He obtained a B.S. in Political Science from Tuskegee University in 1967 and also attended Harvard University. In 1970 he obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia, Lumpkin School of Law. He obtained Master of Laws degree from the University of Virginia in 1989.

As a tribute to Justice Benham, I am sharing my remarks from the 2013 Justice Robert Benham Community Service Awards.  Prompted by concerns about the decreasing number of lawyers in leadership positions in public and community service, then Chief Justice Robert Benham in 1996 created a Community Service Task Force under the auspices of the Commission on Professionalism.  Composed of leaders of the bench and bar in Georgia, the Task Force determined to encourage, support, and recognize within the profession the tradition that all lawyers perform community service and measure their success in ways other than just financial gain.  To accomplish its purpose, the Task Force created the Justice Robert Benham Annual Awards for Community Service in partnership with the State Bar to honor lawyers and judges from the ten judicial districts of Georgia who have made outstanding contributions in the area of community service.  Since 1998, the Commission has coordinated the selection and presentation of these Awards.

Justice Benham, to say you will be missed on the bench is an understatement. I will always think of you with great love and admiration.  You are the ultimate role model for any lawyer.  The hallmarks of your career and life are integrity, kindness, compassion for others and  wisdom. You deserve only the best in your retirement. Godspeed!

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Top 50 Women attorneys in Georgia Badge
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