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

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Have you seen the new commercial made by GMC for its new Sierra and Yukon Danali pick-up trucks that features hands free driving? It shows a person sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck (I hesitate to call this person a “driver” because he is really not driving at all) with no hands (and not even a knee) on the steering wheel while the pick-up truck appears to be moving at a high rate of speed. Then the person sitting in the driver’s seat begins to clap to the beat of Queen’s famous rock song “We Will Rock You.” And all the passengers in the vehicle start clapping in unison with the beat and with the person sitting in the driver’s seat of the speeding truck while he never touches the steering wheel with his hands. It is scary to watch on TV. It is even scarier to think that someone next to you or behind you on the highway is doing this in a vehicle while you attempt to drive as carefully as possible to arrive at your destination safely. Welcome to the world of hands free driving!

I ask whether you are willing to take the risk of hands free driving because using this “autopilot” feature on some new cars and trucks may result in some horrible consequences, including criminal charges for vehicular homicide.  This is what happened in Los Angeles recently when a person using a Tesla’s autopilot feature (notice I didn’t call him a “driver”) was charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence for the deaths of two people who were killed when the auto-driven Tesla slammed into their Honda Civic, killing them both.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed the auto-pilot feature was on at the time of the collision. The charges against the defendant appear to mark the first time a driver in the United States was prosecuted for a felony while using semi-automated driving technology. The families of the two decedents have filed wrongful death suits, but it is unclear whether Tesla was included as a defendant for products liability.

Michael Brooks, the chief operating officer at the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on the U.S. automotive industry, said he hopes Tesla drivers and owners see this case and understand that Autopilot has limitations. “It will not drive them from any point A to any point B always safely, and they need to be responsible for the actions of the vehicle,” Brooks said.

Depositphotos_21861685_m-2015-300x200Jury service in Georgia is both a legal obligation and civic responsibility, but the process itself is not well understood by those outside the court system. How do you know if you’ve been selected? Who is eligible? And if you are selected, what happens next?

Attorney Robin Frazer Clark, P.C. is an experienced trial lawyer who has presented civil (non-criminal) cases to several juries. In this blog, we go over what you can expect once you’ve been chosen to serve on a jury in a civil matter such as a personal injury, medical malpractice, or wrongful death case.

Who Can Be a Juror in Georgia?

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I reaIMG_63761-225x300d with great interest a recent report from the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that showed a reduction in suicides attributable largely to a song by music artist Logic. That song’s title is “1-800-273-8255,” the hotline number for the suicide prevention lifeline. As a result of this song, number of calls to the lifeline were up while numbers of suicides were down. The correlation to the song was proven by tracking these numbers during three time periods: the first 34 days after the song’s release, Logic’s performance at the 2017 MTV awards and an additional widely promoted performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards.  “1-800-273-8255” is a beautiful song, and if you are not familiar with it, I urge you to take three minutes out now and listen to it.  It starts with a young person saying he doesn’t want to live anymore, that he just wants to die. Then other voices enter the song and essentially talk to the young person and stay with him until the feeling he needs to die by suicide passes. Finally, the young person sings:

I finally wanna be alive, I finally wanna be alive

I don’t wanna die today, I don’t wanna die

african-businesswoman-discussing-with-remotely-woman-partner-online-sitting-front-laptop-working-start-up-office-talking-video-call-during-virtual-meeting-midnight-using-headphone-300x169To be fair, many personal injury victims and their families were not given much of a choice these past 18 months (closing in on two years, as a matter of fact). Everyone had a learning curve in the first few months of the pandemic—some steeper than others—but most attorneys, judges, and court personnel would agree that some court hearings can be easily conducted virtually.

Mediations, at least in the personal injury space, have worked quite well over Zoom. Our firm has been pleasantly surprised at the feasibility of getting results from mediation sessions where participants were spread across the country. In fact, our team would not be opposed to continuing virtual mediation sessions after the pandemic is fully under control. 

What is Mediation?

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Oyez, Oyez! Oyez!  All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of Georgia, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God Bless the State of Georgia and this Honorable Court.  May it please the Court.

Yesterday, I was honored to speak in the Georgia Supreme Court as part of the Court’s 175th Anniversary Celebration. The Celebration began Wednesday evening with a lovely dinner at The Commerce Club.  Thursday was a full day of seminar on the history of the Supreme Court and biographies of various former Justices. I spoke about the creation of the State Bar of Georgia in 1964, which was approved by the Georgia Supreme Court and five years later held to be Constitutional in two separate cases. It was one of the highest honors of my career. I am sharing with you below my presentation.

We are very fortunate to have the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Bar of Georgia, which, together, protect your rights to live in a Just society, grounded in the Rule of Law, so that all may reap the benefits and rewards that our system of Justice provides.

solen-feyissa-iurEAyYyU_c-unsplash-300x209Fair or not, almost every move you make after filing an insurance claim or lawsuit can be scrutinized. The insurance company or defense counsel might hire a private investigator to discreetly follow you around to try to gather evidence that’s harmful to your personal injury case. Unfortunately for personal injury victims, that’s not all the other side can do. 

If you have any type of social media account—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, to name a few—you are at risk of imperiling your personal injury case without even knowing it. That’s because plaintiffs’ social media accounts are discoverable in a personal injury lawsuit. 

What is Discovery?

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“Isn’t that a jury question?”  As a trial lawyer who has tried 75 jury trials in Georgia, that is my default position, i.e., a jury should decide each issue of fact. Not a trial judge and certainly not an appellate court. Juries perform this task of finding facts every day, in every courtroom in the United States. It’s what juries do…and it’s the very foundation our system of Justice is built upon.

Yet, too often, we see trial judges, and then even appellate judges, invade the province of the jury and decide the case for herself/himself. This, plain and simply, is not allowed. The Standard of Review of a denial of a motion for summary judgment, for example, requires [an appellate] Court to “view the evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. And at the summary-judgment stage, we do not resolve disputed facts, reconcile the issues, weigh the evidence, or determine its credibility, as those matters must be submitted to a jury for resolution.” Orr v. SSC Atlanta Operating Co., 860 S.E.2d 217, 222 (Ga. Ct. App. 2021), reconsideration denied (July 14, 2021). It really can’t be any plainer than that.

The United States Supreme Court, the highest appellate Court in the country, rarely, if ever, even discusses issues of fact, much less decides them. You can imagine my surprise, then, when in today’s oral argument in United States v. Tsarnaev I heard Justice Sotomayor ask exactly that question:  “Isn’t that for a jury to decide?”   Whoa! Wait a minute! What just happened?!  A Supreme Court Justice never asks a question like that, does she? And yet I heard it with my own two ears! Interesting.

christopher-burns-8KfCR12oeUM-unsplash-300x200If a person who is working on a Georgia construction site is injured by some other person’s negligence during the course and scope of their job, the injured person has several options. First, the injured worker would look to the company he works for workers’ compensation. If that employer has more than 3 employees, which is usually the case in construction, that employer is required to have workers’ compensation insurance.

Then, the injured worker may have other causes of action against other companies who were also present at the construction site and whose negligence may have caused the injury. This is why an injured worker should hire a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer quickly after the injury. A good lawyer will be able to identify these other causes of action, including simple negligence actions against at-fault employees who are employed by a different company than the injured worker’s company, and even possibly products liability or premises liability actions against third parties. 

Should You File a Lawsuit?

insung-yoon-w2JtIQQXoRU-unsplash-300x200Just when everyone thought the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind us, the Delta variant swept through the country and became the dominant strain in a matter of weeks. Plaintiffs in personal injury cases who thought they would finally get their proper day in court are now facing the prospects of more delays. 

Our team knows that nobody is more frustrated than personal injury victims and their families. Justice delayed, as it is often said, is justice denied. When you choose Attorney Robin Clark and the team to take your personal injury case to trial, we will fight for you until the end. 

Zoom Mediations—a Worthy Alternative?

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I have been enjoying seeing posts on social media of families taking their college-aged kids to their colleges and universities and helping them move in to their dorm rooms. This is a rite-of-passage for many young people as they begin their college careers and are perhaps living away from their home and their parents for the first time in their lives. The personal injury attorney in me can’t help but notice on the many dorm room photos online of how many of the high bunk beds have bedrails installed versus how many don’t. And this is the problem: no high bunk bed in any college dorm room should be without a bedrail installed.  The photograph above makes me happy because it shows a high bunk bed with a bedrail installed. This student will be safe when sleeping in this high bunk bed.

This issue came to light several years ago when Clark Jacobs, then a Georgia Tech student,  fell out of his lofted bed in his fraternity house. He fell 7 feet from his bed to the hard floor of his room. He was diagnosed with a fractured skull and a brain bleed which then led to a stroke. Five years and hundreds of hours of therapy later, including in-patient rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, Clark graduated from Georgia Tech in the summer of 2020.  I blogged about this incident last year and about a similar incident that happened to a young woman who was a student at Valdosta State University. That woman sued the Georgia Board of Regents and lost her case in the Georgia Court of Appeals. Valdosta State Univ. v. Davis, A20A1036, 2020 WL 4745074 (Ga. Ct. App. Aug. 17, 2020). Her attorneys petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court for Certiorari, but the Supreme Court declined to hear this case earlier this year, which means the Georgia Court of Appeals’ opinion stands.

Following my September 2020 blog on college bedrails,  Mariellen Jacobs, Clark Jacobs’s mother, reached out to me to discuss this ongoing problem. Given the fact that she had witnessed her son’s injury and recuperation first hand from an incident that, arguably, never should have happened in the first place, Mariellen Jacobs has become quite an expert on this subject matter. Her son endured a long recovery at Shepherd Center with medical bills totaling over $1 Million dollars. In Georgia, through the work of her foundation, Rail Against the Danger, Ms. Jacobs was able to convince the University System of Georgia (and all 26 state campuses) to become “rails ON” so that at residence hall check-in, every elevated bed has a safety rail in place to prevent injury. You can find information online that indicates that in at least a Georgia dorm room, a bedrail must be installed on the top bunk.  You will find this language in the Georgia Tech Housing and Residence Life webpage:

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