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When you’re injured, your first concern is usually getting back to your life as normal. As such, you’re likely concerned about the settlement you may get from your personal injury case and whether or not it will be enough to cover all of the bills and expenses that have piled up while you’ve been injured. While there is no sure-fire way to guarantee that you will get the settlement amount you want, there are several factors that could play a role in the final payout you receive.

To start, the type of accident you were involved in plays a large role in the value of your case. If you were injured in a pedestrian accident or a car accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, you will likely receive significantly more compensation than if you were involved in a car crash that was partially your fault.. However, if you sustained an injury as the result of a defective product (such as a malfunctioning airbag or defective bicycle helmet), the amount you can recover may be significantly more, depending on whether or not the manufacturer was negligent in their creation of the product.

Another factor that could affect your final settlement is the nature and severity of your injuries. The more severe your injuries are, the harder it will be for you to return to work and the more you’ll need to recover in order to pay your medical bills and other expenses. As a result, you may receive a larger settlement if your injuries are severe or permanent rather than if they are only temporary. On the other hand, if the injury you received is relatively minor and did not cause any serious complications or lasting effects, you might not receive any compensation at all. Although you can receive compensation for pain and suffering in a personal injury case, arguing for damages due to mental and emotional distress can be significantly more difficult than physical injuries. As a result, your claim could be worth much less if the emotional impact of your injury is your main point of contention.

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I read with horror and sadness about another child who was severely injured from falling off a elevated bunk bed that had no bedrail or guardrail. This time it happened to a young child, Easton Oliverson, who was playing in the Little League World Series.  Horror and sadness because this was a  totally predictable and totally preventable incident because there were no rails on the elevated bunk bed this child fell from. This happened during the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The child suffered a head injury as the fall punctured an artery which caused bleeding on the brain and he needed a piece of skull removed during emergency brain surgery. Some encouraging news came Wednesday, KSTU reports, as Easton was awake, off of oxygen assistance, talking and sitting up in a chair.

When the incident happened, the child’s teammates heard him fall and were able to get help quickly. His uncle said the fast action by all involved may have saved the child’s life.

“We’re just at point now where he’s just in recovery,” the uncle said. “The teammates heard him fall, thank goodness. When they got into surgery, the doctor talked to [him] and said had he not gotten into surgery but 30 minutes later, he would have been dead.”

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Premises liability holds individuals or businesses responsible for injuries that occur on their property, even if they did not personally cause the injury. It is based on the premise that businesses have a duty to maintain their property in a safe condition, and that this duty extends to protecting their customers from harm, to a reasonable degree.

A premises liability case can be difficult to pursue because it often requires evidence that the business was aware of an unsafe condition and did not take appropriate steps to remedy it. A successful premises liability case relies on establishing that the party was negligent in their duties to maintain the property.

What Is Negligence in Premises Liability?

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Ever since I began the Georgia State Bar’s Suicide Prevention Program back in 2012 when I was President of the State Bar of Georgia, I have been advocating for the need for more mental health services provided during an emergency.  For longest time, all U.S. citizens have had available to them for an emergency is to call 911. This is, without question, an extremely valuable service to have when you need help from the police or fire department. But is hasn’t also proven helpful when what you have is really a mental health emergency. There have been numerous examples of incidents here in Atlanta in which, in my opinion, had there been a mental health emergency number available instead of just 911, a life would not have been lost.

The police shooting of Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech student, is a prime example. Scout was a fourth-year computer engineering major with a minor in biomedical engineering at the time of his death.   Scout was fatally shot September 16, 2017, after approaching officers with a knife and saying, “Shoot me.”  A Georgia Tech officer who had not had mental health training shot Scout, even though Scout was yards away from him and couldn’t possibly hurt the officer with a knife from that distance.  The officers needed mental health training on how to deescalate and handle a mental health crisis someone is going through instead of shooting that person. Had we had a 988 available then, perhaps Scout would still be with us.  The same can be said for the police shooting of Nygil Cullins, who was having a mental health crisis at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead. Rather than handing it as mental health crisis, as it obviously was, the Atlanta Police shot and killed Mr. Cullins.  What is truly sad is that his mother had tried to get emergency transport for her son to a mental health living facility by calling 911 and waited for two hours. She had even called Riverwood Behavioral Health Center ahead of time to make sure they had a bed available, and told 911 dispatchers she would follow police there and fill out the paperwork when they arrived. She said “all you have to do is transport him.” Mr. Cullins waited with his mother for two hours without any help from 911 and, ultimately, left for Fogo de Chao, without mental health intervention. The Atlanta Police, rather than sending a mental health team, sent armed police officer who handled the situation by shooting and killing Mr. Cullins. Another life lost senselessly and one that 988 may have saved.

So I am thrilled that we now have available to us 988 for mental health crises. “If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, at a recent press briefing. “988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.”  I pray this is true.  The primary goal of the new number is to make it easier for people to call for help. Lawmakers and mental health advocates also see this launch as an opportunity to transform the mental health care system and make care easily accessible everywhere in the United States. The Biden administration has invested more than $400 million in beefing up crisis centers and other mental health services to support the 988 system.

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We trust healthcare professionals to serve us in our time of need, and as such, it can be devastating when yourself or a loved one is injured instead of cared for. The issue of medical malpractice, however, isn’t so cut and dry. These cases can quickly become complicated, and establishing a solid case depends on several factors which you should be aware of before pursuing damages.

Standard of Care

Cases of medical malpractice in Georgia are reliant on the “standard of care”, or the level of care and standard practices which should be expected of a healthcare professional. To establish a basis for a medical malpractice case, it must be shown that the healthcare provider violated this standard of care in some way. Like most personal injury cases, demonstrating that they were negligent in fulfilling their standard of care is essential to a successful case.

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You have probably heard by now that the Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the conviction of Ross Harris for murder for the death of his young child, Cooper Harris, who Ross Harris left in the back seat of a hot car for hours.  I think the Court got it exactly right.  Many people have some very strong opinions on both sides of this case. All you have to do is check the hashtag #RossHarris to see how polarized the public is on the case.  The reversal was certainly big news not only in Georgia, but Nationwide. This was a closely watched case.

This may be Justice Nahmias’s final opinion on the Georgia Supreme Court, and he is going out with a bang.  I never thought Mr. Harris should have been prosecuted for murder in the first place.  We know through neuroscience that it takes very little time or effort to distract our brains.  Just the slightest deviation in our typical routine can make you forget where you intended to go or that a baby is in the car with you. Season 2 of AJC’s podcast Breakdown makes this clear with even an example of an Arkansas judge, Judge Wade Naramore, who left his 19-month-old child in his car while he was in court, resulting in the child’s death. The judge’s 911 call is one of the most horrific calls you will ever hear. You’ll also hear about an elementary school principal who left her home early one morning with her baby in her car seat in the back seat. It was too early for her to drop the baby off at day care, so the school principal deviated from her typical, normal route to go pick up doughnuts. Then she drove to school. Hours later a teacher saw the baby in the back seat. They rushed to get her out but she was dead. That simple deviation to the doughnut shop made the elementary school principal forget her child was in the back in her carseat.  I urge you to listen to the AJC’s podcast. Season Two is called “Death in a Hot Car.”

Today, there are many tools a parent can use to help you remember your child is in the back seat, e.g., Baby in Car Seat Alarms, that sound an alarm and flash lights in your car if you forget your child in his car seat. There are phone apps, e.g., Kars 4 Kids Safety, or Backseat App, that alert you to check for you child in the backseat. Even the GPS app WAZE has added a Child Alert to remind you to check on your child before getting out of your car. This shows that anyone can make this mistake and now there are tools to help you not make it.  The National Safety Council has tracked children left in hot cars for over 20 years. It reported that in 2018, 52 children died being left in hot cars. Since 1998 over 800 kids were lost from vehicular heatstroke. Of these deaths, 24% occurred in employee parking lots, just like Cooper Harris.  This is telling.  For those who are adamant that “this would never happen to me,” we know through neuroscience that that belief is simply one created through a heuristic called “defense attribution.” “Defense Attribution” is defined as “bias or error in attributing cause for some event such that a perceived threat to oneself is minimized. For example, people might blame an automobile accident on the other driver’s mistake because this attribution lessens their perception that they themselves are responsible for the accident.” Our minds do this to us when there is something so horrific you can not imagine it ever happening to you.  We also know that the worse the event, the stronger the human mind insists it would never happen to me.  This is something personal injury attorneys often face with jurors in cases in which the injuries to the plaintiff are horrible.

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You may be familiar with the phrase “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is frequently cited in reference to criminal trials. Less frequently referenced is the “preponderance of evidence”, or the standard that proof in civil injury trials is held to. This difference could make a substantial impact on your case, as it severely shifts the burden of proof in the plaintiff’s favor.

What Is the “Preponderance of Evidence”?

The preponderance of evidence is simply a different type of evidentiary standard by which civil trials operate. Thankfully, this standard makes the burden of proof much simpler than in criminal trials. In a civil trial, both sides have equal burdens of proof, so they both hold the same amount of responsibility to provide evidentiary support for their claims. Put simply, whichever side demonstrates that their claims are more likely to be true than the other ought to win the case. Unlike criminal trials, it is a perfect 50/50 split – the plaintiff does not need to provide enough evidence to convince the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

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I recently had the honor of attending the dedication of the portrait of Justice Harris P. Hines and the portrait’s official installation at the Nathan Deal Judicial Center in the Georgia Supreme Court Courtroom. Justice Hines and I were good friends, and his beautiful wife, Helen Hines, remains my good friend. Helen spoke at the dedication and said this about her husband of 46 years:

“Harris will be remembered as a judge and as a justice who loved people, and served the citizens of Georgia. He will be remembered for how he touched the lives of others, traveling throughout the state for over four decades. He spoke to civic clubs and legal groups, delivered introductions and invocations, taught continuing legal education courses, judged mock trials and debates, moderated panel discussions, counseled anyone who sought his guidance or advice — greeting people with sincerity and warmth. He never seemed to tire of talking — I’m on stop right there. He never seemed to tire of talking — to them, and inquiring about their lives and their families. He cared about individuals and treated them all with respect and fairness. Hard work, courtesy, integrity and kindness are the real legacy Harris leaves,” she concluded.

Chief Justice David Nahmias spoke. Former Chief Justice Harold Melton (now private lawyer) spoke and said this about Justice Hines: “Everybody here knew and loved Justice Hines, and everybody has the same impression of him and of his kindness,” said Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders partner Harold Melton, who succeeded Hines as chief justice and was his close friend, though they were 23 years apart in age. But Melton said for this occasion he wanted to remember Hines as a lawyer.  “It’s appropriate that we also talk about his legal legacy and his commitment to the fidelity of the law, how painstakingly he pored over the law and how determined he was to get it right,” Melton said.

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Should a caller EVER be placed on hold when calling 911? Common sense tells us of course not, right?  By the very nature of the call, that you are calling 911, you have an emergency that needs to be addressed, well, emergently.  Unfortunately, many 911 calls in Metro Atlanta are being placed on hold, with the typical hold message of “Your call is very important to us.”

CBS46 News has investigated and reported on this new phenomenon in which the 911 Center places an emergency caller on hold.  CBS46 uncovered a frightening trend in the numbers, showing an increase in 911 wait times. For the first four months of 2022, nearly 13%, which is over 40,433 people, sat on hold more than 40 seconds. That’s an increase from 2021 where it was at 9%, and 2020 at 5%. The majority of Atlanta’s 911 callers do not wait on hold for more than 10 seconds. In the first four months of 2022, roughly 75% of Atlanta’s 911 callers or 245,855 people called 911 and waited less than 10 seconds to talk to an actual person.

I experienced this personally recently when my husband called 911 to report a street racing incident occurring near a restaurant where we where having dinner out on its patio. We were enjoying dinner outside when we started smelling smoke and heard tires screeching. This occurred at the intersection of Briarcliff Road and LaVista Road in unincorporated DeKalb County on a beautiful Sunday early evening. Within seconds of the noise of the screeching tires, a crowd appeared, as if by magic. There were easily 80-100 people surrounding that intersection watching cars go round and round burning up their tires. I’m guessing some of those 80-100 folks were armed, thanks to our “concealed carry” law in Georgia. It wasn’t a leap in logic or imagination to believe someone might get hurt. My husband dialed 911 and was placed on hold with a message saying to him that his call “was important to them.” We later saw numerous posts on our NextDoor website that other folks attempted to call 911 for this same incident, also, and were placed on hold. Eventually, DeKalb County police cars arrived at the scene perhaps 10 minutes after we tried to call.

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Most personal injury cases result in compensatory damages being paid to the injured party, but these damages aren’t the only type assigned to those who cause injury through negligence. In some cases, further punishment may be deemed necessary. In these cases, punitive damages may also be applied. 

What’s the Difference Between Punitive and Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages are what you’re likely already familiar with, damages that are paid to the injured party as compensation for their injury, which is intended to both penalize the offender and provide the victim with funds often needed to cover medical bills and lost wages. Punitive damages take this a step further and are used in cases where the offending party acted with serious negligence, putting the victim into serious danger with little or no care for their safety. 

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