March 9, 2023
Michael L. Thurmond
CEO, DeKalb County
March 9, 2023
Michael L. Thurmond
CEO, DeKalb County
Last month I had the distinct and unusual honor of being a guest of my client, Carelle Karimimanesh, at the Georgia State University Law School Scholarship Donor Luncheon, to recognize Carelle for creating a law school scholarship in memory of her daughter, Naiyareh “Nai” Karimimanesh, with proceeds she received as a result of a settlement of a case for the wrongful death of Nai, in which I represented her. The scholarship is named the Naiyareh Karimimanesh Memorial Scholarship. Carelle also endowed a moot courtroom at Georgia State University in honor and memory of Nai, who graduated from Georgia State Law School.
Naiyareh Karimimanesh was born on May 17, 1979 in San Francisco, California. Nai graduated from Emory University in Atlanta where she graduated with a BA in History and minors in Religion and Persian (Farsi) in 2001. Her life and education were enhanced by summer study in Israel and Jordan. Nai was also an active member of the Emory Baha’i Club. While at Emory, Nai was a Jimmy Carter Presidential Center Intern, a University Senator, and a Senior Resident Advisor. She was a leader in the Residence Life Community and was respected and admired by all of her residents and the administration at Emory University. Nai earned her Juris Doctorate from Georgia State University in
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.
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.
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!
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.
Having spent several days at home for the Holidays, I was struck (and not in a good way) about how many commercials there are on TV for personal injury lawyers. It is NON-stop. And the same goes for social media, where plaintiff’s lawyer after plaintiff’s lawyer is shown in a video bragging about themselves. It’s sickening, and I don’t think these commercial appearances enhance our reputation at all. Just the opposite. So I thought I would take a moment to list a few things that a person like you who has recently been injured due to someone else’s negligence should consider before hiring one.
I have noticed during this Coronavirus Pandemic that there are more bicyclists and walkers out on our streets than usual. It seems everyone is trying to use the time they, otherwise, might be spending at their office, getting some much-needed exercise. Over the past two months, Over the past two months, bicycle sales saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including children’s’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before,bicycle sales saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including children’s’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before. Sales of commuter and fitness bikes in the same month increased 66 percent, leisure bikes jumped 121 percent, children’s bikes went up 59 percent and electric bikes rose 85 percent. By the end of April, many stores and distributors had sold out of low-end consumer bikes. Now, the United States is facing a severe bicycle shortage as global supply chains, disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, scramble to meet the surge in demand.
Unfortunately, with so many extra pedestrians and bicyclists on the street come more injuries from being hit by a car or truck. This is especially true as walkers often walk in the streets themselves rather than the sidewalk to distance themselves from other walkers on the sidewalks. For bicyclists, many are hopping on bikes for the first time in years and may not be used to the traffic encountered on certain streets and the danger it brings. In New York City, for example, bicyling injuires were up 43% during the Coronvirus crisis. I have not seen similar government-maintained statistics for Georgia, although the Department of Highway Safety does still have online a manual for bicycle riders from 2006. You may find all of Georgia’s rules and ordinances regarding riding a bicycle on the Georgia Deparment of Highway Safety’s website, although it may be a little out of date.
I have represented numerous pedestrians and numerous cyclists in cases when they have been hit by a vehicle. Often, the driver of the vehicle does the right thing and stays with the cyclist and calls 911. But sometimes, the driver of the vehicle does the absolute wrong thing and leaves the scene and leaves the cyclist hurt and alone on the pavement. The vehicle driver who leaves the scene becomes a “John Doe,” identity unknown. Many injured pedestrians or cyclists may think there is nothing they can do to get justice in that situation, that the at-fault driver just gets away with it. But there is a little known method of recovery under the injured person’s uninsured motorist coverage, if the victim owns a car and it is insured with uninsured motorist coverage. That particular type of car insurance actually covers you as a pedestrian or cyclist if you are hit by an unknown vehicle, as long as there is some type of corroboration that it was, in fact, a vehicle that hit the person. Corroboration can be made by an eyewitness, physical evidence left at the scene, e.g., a car bumper torn off, damaged bike or possibly other evidence that you would expect to see in a vehicle v. bike collision. Unless you practice this kind of personal injury law, like I do, you would have no reason even to be aware that your car insurance policy might cover you as a pedestrian or cyclist. It is not clear from reading most policies, and you sure can’t count on your insurance agent informing you of it.
Does anyone else out there hate scooters? For those folks still in denial about the risk/cost benefit analysis in riding scooters, you should know that scooter injuries continue to climb. A new report by the University of California San Francisco revealed Electric scooter-related injuries resulting in hospitalization more than tripled over five years nationwide. The results showed nearly 40,000 injuries in the past five years, increasing from 6 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 19 per 100,000 in 2018. The number of hospital admissions — meaning injuries severe enough to require further medical attention — soared by 365% to nearly 3,300, the study found.
I’m not surprised. Are you?
Scooter injuries and even deaths have been in the news here in Atlanta nearly daily. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms even outlawed use of scooters at night in the city due to four scooter-related deaths. On any given day on my way to my office, which is in Downtown Atlanta, I see 2 or 3 near-catastrophic collisions with scooter-riders and cars or immovable objects. Surely, you have, too. Add a little alcohol consumed by tourists who think “it will be fun” to ride a scooter for the first time after having a few drinks, it is downright mayhem on our city streets. I have seen two or even three people riding one scooter at a time. I have seen a scooter rider texting while scooting. I have seen a scooter rider with a back-pack on, drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. Anything goes. It’s totally lawless! Part of the cause of many scooter-rider injuries must be due to lack of skill and practice riding a scooter. “E-scooters have a narrow platform, can travel up to 15 to 20 miles per hour and require a level of coordination and skill that is often not native to many users,” said Aiza Ashraf, M.D., diagnostic radiology resident at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “Whereas physical effort is required to get a bicycle up to speed, e-scooters are self-powering.”
I was just put on a jury in a case that seems pretty clear cut. So why am I here? Why is there a trial?
Many jurors may find themselves thinking this in a case in which the defendant is clearly at fault and the plaintiff is clearly injured. Most reasonable people, as jurors tend to be, would assume a clear liability case with clear injuries should be settled out of court. My concern is that when a juror is forced to sit on a jury in a case like this, the juror may very likely assume it must be because the plaintiff wanted too much money. But it seems to be a trend in many cases in Georgia that what actually has happened is that the insurance carrier for the at-fault defendant has refused to offer much, if anything, before trial, to try to resolve the case. This has been borne out many times in recent trials.
For example, in a case tried in Whitfield County, Georgia (Dalton) a jury entered a verdict in the amount of $21.6 million last month for a man who lost a leg after being struck by a pick-up truck as he walked toward a Whitfield County highway to stop traffic for a tractor-trailer. The plaintiff’s medical bills were more than $411,000 and the insurance carrier didn’t even offer that much before the trial, according to plaintiff’s attorney. He said the insurance carriers never offered any meaningful settlement despite their client’s permanent, life-altering injuries and despite a court-ordered mediation.