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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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Georgia is somewhat unique in its negligence laws, which could have a big impact on your personal injury case. If you’re not aware of what negligence is, or how it functions in Georgia law, don’t worry – we’re here to clear up the confusion so you can understand the premise of your personal injury case.

What is Negligence?

In Georgia, negligence is when one party owes a duty to another party but doesn’t take the proper precautions or actions to prevent an injury to the other party, and therefore causes some sort of harm. A common example is that when driving, you have a duty to exercise care in ensuring that you don’t get into an accident. Driving through a red light would be a breach of that duty, as you would violating your duty to avoid an accident. Establishing negligence in a personal injury case is critical to proving liability.

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You may recall that I wrote a blog about a case that occurred in here in Georgia in which a husband and wife sued Snapchat (now known as Snap, Inc.) for negligent design of their “app” because the app promoted using it while a driver was driving at a high rate of speed as it recorded your speed for you to share (brag) with all of your friends and followers. The speed filter allows a driver behind the wheel to document his or her speed by “snapping” a picture while the car is in motion. On this one particular night, a teenage driver allegedly opened her Snapchat app while driving as an attempt to snap a picture of her car reaching 100 mph. The driver allegedly, according to the Complaint, accelerated until reaching approximately 107 mph before she realized another driver had pulled onto the road. She crashed into him at full speed. Both cars were totaled, leaving multiple people with tremendous injuries – both physical and psychological – and thousands of dollars in expenses.

That happened in 2015. Somewhere along the last seven years Snapchat filed a Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit and the trial court granted it. The plaintiffs appealed and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed. But now, in 2022, seven years after the original wreck, the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled against Snapchat and in favor of the Plaintiffs to permit the lawsuit to proceed. Justice Verda Colvin wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court, which was not unanimous. There were three special concurrences and two dissents, and two justices did not participate in the opinion.  The issue presented here was whether Snapchat owed a legal duty to the Maynards on the basis that a manufacturer’s duty to design reasonably safe products  extends to people injured by a third party’s intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer’s product. Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc., S21G0555, 2022 WL 779733, at *1 (Ga. Mar. 15, 2022) The Georgia Court of Appeals said “no.” The Georgia Supreme Court said “yes.” And there you have it. The Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion carries the day. But the plaintiffs still have a long way to go. The Supreme Court remanded (sent back) the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals with the instruction “to address whether the trial court erred in dismissing the Maynards’ claims against Snap and in granting judgment on the pleadings to Snap for lack of proximate causation.” This means the lower appellate court must now analyze the case from the standpoint of whether the Snapchat speed filter actually caused the wreck or was it merely the negligent driving of the teenage driver that caused the wreck.  This is a 56 page opinion issued by the Supreme Court, so it is clear that the Court spent a great deal of time and thought on this matter. That is all you can ask for. But, with two dissents and three other special concurrences, you couldn’t call this a “ringing” endorsement of the cause of action. And, the Supreme Court may see the case a second time before a jury ever does, because depending on how the Georgia Court of Appeals rules, it is likely to go back up to the Supreme Court on the issue of proximate causation. I think, realistically, it will probably be 2025 (the 10 year anniversary of the wreck) before it may get in front of a jury.

That should show you a couple of things. First, the wheels of Justice often grind slowly. Recently, I had to testify in a deposition to authenticate a videotape of DeKalb Avenue for an attorney who has a case pending against the City of Atlanta regarding the reversible lane lights. I had taken that videotape in 2012, ten years ago. And that case was just getting to trial. Secondly, it should show you the tenacity of the lawyers representing the Maynards in this case.  You can also say that about the defense attorneys in the case, but they have been getting paid for their work for the last seven years; the plaintiffs’ attorneys have not. When a plaintiff’s attorney decides to take a case, she or he has to decide to see it to the end, knowing the life of the case may last years before resolution. This is the agreement we make with our clients when we accept a case. We must fight nonstop for our clients. So hats off to the Maynards’ attorneys.

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Whether you’re a skydiver or a snowboarder, your favorite physical activities likely involve some sort of risk. We try to be careful and knowledgeable of these risks to avoid any harm to ourselves or others, but in a case of personal injury, knowledge of those risks could prevent you from recovering damages.

How Does the Assumption of Risk work?

The assumption of risk is a legal defense used by defendants in personal injury cases. It argues that you are knowledgeable and accepting of the risks involved in whatever activity you are participating in. You’ve likely already experienced an agreement to an assumption of risk – if you’ve ever gone skiing, skydiving, or any other number of physical activities, one of the waivers you signed beforehand may have been a contract specifying that you have accepted the assumption of risk for that activity. This means that should you be injured, it is assumed that you accepted the risk involved, and thus are liable for your injuries. 

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My eye caught an interesting recent study that are 32% more likely to die when operated on by a male surgeon. This really shocked me. If this is true, what could possibly explain this?

This study was conducted in the United Kingdom, but recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). “In our 1.3 million patient sample involving nearly 3,000 surgeons we found that female patients treated by male surgeons had 15% greater odds of worse outcomes than female patients treated by female surgeons,” said Dr Angela Jerath, an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and a co-author of the findings.  For each of the 1.3 million operations studied, they analyzed the sex of each patient and details of how their procedure had gone and also the sex of the surgeon who carried it out.  They found that men who had an operation had the same outcomes regardless of whether their surgeon was male or female. Women, however, experienced better outcomes if the procedure had been performed by a female surgeon compared with a male surgeon. There were no gender differences in how surgery went for either men or women operated on by a female surgeon. They found that men who had an operation had the same outcomes regardless of whether their surgeon was male or female.  Jerath added that while “there are some excellent male surgeons who consistently have good outcomes, what is concerning is that this analysis does signal some real difference among male and female surgeons overall where practice can impact general patient outcomes”.

The answer can’t be that medical training is different for male and female medical students. They get the same training. So why the difference in surgical outcomes? Dr. Jerath posited “Implicit sex biases”, in which surgeons “act on subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes”, may be one possible explanation.  Differences in men’s and women’s communication and interpersonal skills evident in surgeons’ discussions with patients before the operation takes place may also be a factor, she added. And “differences between male and female physician work style, decision-making and judgment”. The findings build upon existing literature that has found that a doctor’s gender identity can impact the care patients receive, particularly if the doctor and patient share identities (this is described among researchers as “gender concordance”).

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I noticed this morning with sadness that a young woman was killed on I-285 last night when she got out of her car. Police said the accident happened around 10 p.m. on I-285 NB between South Cobb Drive and Atlanta Road.  There is no mention of why she left her car to become a person-on-foot on I-285, which is, by the way, one of the deadliest freeways in the United States. Whatever the reason, your car breaks down, or you have a medical emergency, you have a flat tire, or whatever...do not get out of your car on a highway. Getting out of your car of a highway is also one of the deadliest things you can do, even if you stay in an emergency lane. It doesn’t matter, it is still dangerous. “You are better protected in the car than anywhere else,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for the Northeast division of AAA.

I represent a Good Samaritan right now who saw a car on the side of the way, apparently, having car trouble. He stopped to help because he is a good person. Unfortunately, while he was on foot trying to help the people in the stalled car, a van hits him and catastrophically injures him. He survived, but has not been able to return to work since. I hate to tell people stop helping others, stop being a Good Samaritan, but being a Good Samaritan can get you killed.  Do not get out of your car on a highway or interstate. Remain in your car and call 911 or your roadside assistance. Wait in the car until they get there. There is no safe place to be on the outside of your car.  Stay in your car!

It is so dangerous out there on our Georgia roads. Stay safe!

Ellwood Oakley III
1945 – 2022
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This past Sunday, after attending our regular Worship Service at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the beautiful Emory University Campus, my husband and I journeyed to Buckhead to Peachtree Road United Methodist Church to send off our good, dear friend, Ellwood “Ebb” Oakley. Ebb was in the Navy during the Viet Nam War and, among other awards, had been awarded the Bronze Star and the National Defense Service Medal. His funeral was a military funeral, with the playing of “Taps,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Eternal Father,” the Navy Hymn. Our good friend, Timothy Miller, who sings “God Bless America” before Braves games on Sundays, led us all in “God Bless America” at Ebb’s funeral. To say this funeral was moving would be an complete understatement. It was a send-off appropriate for a great man like Ebb.

Estate-Planning-8-1-1-300x200The Open Records Act, otherwise known as the Georgia Sunshine Law, provides access to public records of government bodies. This includes basically any record that is held by a public agency, including documents, computer data, photographs, and video. The Open Records Act and other similar state laws are derived from the Freedom of Information Act, which was designed to increase transparency and confidence in public agencies by allowing citizens to identify issues in public offices. Laws like this have now been considered a crucial component in how our government works, allowing for informed participation in the democratic process.

Unless specifically made exempt, all public records should be accessible to you, or any other citizen. You also do not need to provide any reason for accessing the information. If your request is denied, the organization must provide a citation of the law that prohibits them from giving you the documents.

Some organizations may require you to pay fees to accommodate your request, which has been a cause of concern. In the past, fees as high as 660 million dollars have been requested to access documents through the Freedom of Information Act, effectively preventing access to what is supposed to be public information. 

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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.

Awards
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Top 50 Women attorneys in Georgia Badge
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Top 25 National Women Trial Lawyers Badge
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