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You may remember I wrote recently about the Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion in Nuckles v. State, 853 S.E.2d 81 (December 2020) in which the Supreme Court made it crystal clear that a loved one has the absolute right to place a hidden camera in a loved one’s room in an assisted living facility or long-term care home and that video from such a camera is admissible in court. And, of course, it should be. The resident or patient is considered an “occupier” of that property, i.e., his or her room, and may videotape what occurs on his “property.” Nuckles is a well-reasoned, common sense opinion authored by Judge Carla Wong McMillian and concurred in by all the other members of the Georgia Supreme Court, except Justice Warren who simply didn’t participate in the opinion for some reason.

That you should be able to videotape what treatment your loved one is getting in a long-term care home, and then when that videotape shows abuse by a caregiver, that you should be able to admit such videotape into evidence at trial does not seem to be a partisan or political position at all, does it?  Don’t both Republicans and Democrats alike want the very best care for their aging loved ones and don’t Republicans and Democrats alike want to hold someone who would abuse their loved one accountable? That only makes sense, doesn’t it?

Well, not so fast. Enter the Republican-controlled Georgia House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Georgia Senate with the help of the nursing home lobby. The Georgia Legislature decides it’s not such a good idea to be able to hold abusers accountable through hidden camera videotape, taken in the resident’s own room (their “castle” so to speak) and file a bill to undo Nuckles.  This march to overturn Nuckles legislatively only two months later  started with HB 605.  This bill actually provided for criminal prosecution of anyone who set up a “nanny cam” in their loved one’s long-term care room. So imagine this:  your parent suffers from dementia and lives in an assisted living home. You suspect he is being abused both physically and emotionally by the staff, so you set up a hidden camera to see how they treat him while you are not present. Sure enough, your “nannycam” video shows a staff member slapping your parent. You want to bring criminal charges against the person for abusing your parent.  But HB 605 would have actually authorized criminal charges against you! That bill passed the House. So on to the Senate. It was placed on the calendar to be voted on on the last night of the General Assembly session. There, Senator Jen Jordan, and several other open-minded Senators, successfully amended the bill to eliminate the criminal prosecution provision in the scenario I laid out above. So the Senate passed that bill as amended. Now back to the House, during the final hours on the final day of the 2021 session.  But once the piece in the bill making it illegal to have hidden cameras was no longer in the bill, the bill lost its only reason to exist in the first place! No need to pass a bill that essentially says nothing. The folks behind this bill wanted a law against hidden cameras because they can be used to hold these homes and “caregivers” liable for harming their residents.  The House refuses to agree (by the narrowest of margins) to the Senate Substitute and so no law passes. The vote on this was 88 against and 77 in favor, so only an 11 vote margin. This law now is still out there to be picked up again by the Legislature when they begin their 2022 General Assembly Session.

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Videocameras are everywhere today. They have become a normal, integral part of our lives. Many of us carry a videocamera with us everyday, everywhere we go, on the cellphone we carry with us.  We have “apps” on those cell phones that have as their soul purpose the easy viewing and sharing of videos.  We can text videos to one another. It seems to be our instinct now that when we see something interesting, we immediately pull out our cell phone and start videotaping. Some people have made a lot of money selling those videotapes to advertisement companies to use in commercials.  If you just “Google” “rat dragging pizza” you will find one such video that became so popular the person who filmed the video of the rat dragging the pizza sold the video and made alot of money from it.  There is no question that many instances of police brutality and excessive force would never have even come to light if it were not for a videotape of it. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is one such case. Ahmaud’s killers may very well have gotten away with their crime without any accountability in the criminal justice system had there been no video of the shooting.  Many states are now making it mandatory that all officers wear “bodycams” that record an arrest or interaction with a citizen. In our prisons, correctional officers wear bodycams and even have numerous “use of force” cameras stashed away throughout a prison floor that the officers can quickly grab to film any interaction with an inmate. Some of us wear “Go Pros” on our bodies while we are engaging in some activity we believe is particularly athletic, so we can brag to our friends later “Look what I did!”  Many of us have Ring videocameras on our front doors so we can see who is at our door when the doorbell rings or see when a package has been delivered. I even have a client who used a Ring videocamera in their daughter’s bedroom to record her nocturnal seizures.  We have babycams that capture what infants do in their cribs when they are really supposed to be sleeping. Videocameras are in our elevators, in our parking garages and in our convenience stores. We have a “Furbo” which is a dog videocamera that records when our dog is barking or moving around or just sleeping. It even allows us to throw him a treat remotely from my cellphone from wherever I may be. I have to admit that “Furbo” still blows me away.

So it comes as no surprise that families who have loved ones living in nursing homes or long-term care homes would think it a good idea to place a camera in the room of their loved one to keep an eye on him or her while the family can not be there in person. Many families are, sometimes, rightfully worried that their loved one may be experiencing abuse at the hands of some of the employees of the nursing home. We are all familiar with cases where that has happened. Last year in a highly publicized case in Cobb County, Georgia an employee of an assisted living facility was tried for murder for the death of a 91 year old resident who died in 2017. The employee was found guilty of elder abuse but not of murder.

This begs the question:  Is it legal to place a camera in your loved one’s room in an assisted care facility? Maybe you are thinking only a lawyer would even think about that. It seems so clear and obvious that yes, of course, you can place a camera in your loved one’s room.  That’s the smart and loving thing to do. Who would possibly question that?

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If you’ve ever scrolled through network TV in the middle of a weekday, you’ve probably come across one or many commercials for personal injury law firms. One of the phrases these advertisements throw around are “pain and suffering.” This isn’t just a snappy expression designed to get your attention; in Georgia, pain and suffering is actually a legal item of damages. In other words, you might be awarded money to compensate you for your pain and suffering after a serious personal injury. 

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages

After you submit a personal injury claim or file a lawsuit, the other party will begin determining a proper payout (assuming it is determined that you deserve compensation in the first place). The first order of business is calculating your economic damages. These are expenses that have a particular dollar amount attached to them. Common economic damages are lost wages, doctor bills, pharmacy bills, and general medical costs. 

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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.

  1. How many cases has the lawyer actually tried for a plaintiff in front of a jury?  I have seen some young lawyers bragging online about their one awesome verdict, which begs the question: How many cases have they actually tried?  Have they tried only one case and it came out well for the plaintiff?  Potential clients should ask this question. In 32 years of practicing law, I have tried over 75 jury trials to verdict, some lasting 2-3 weeks. This is critical information. Hopefully, as a plaintiff, this is the only case you will ever have in your life. If it were surgery, would you want a doctor who had performed only one surgery before yours?  Or would you want one who had done  100 of them?
  2. Is the lawyer on TV even licensed to practice law in Georgia? I am constantly amazed by the fact that some of the TV advertising lawyers are not even licensed to practice law in the State of Georgia. This means they haven’t studied and worked with the laws of our state and they certainly haven’t tried a case in a state court of Georgia. You have a right to know this and you can easily find this out by going to the website of the State Bar of Georgia at https://www.gabar.org/.  On the home page there is a search box titled “Member Directory.”  This is a resource available to the public and you can put a lawyer’s name in it and see whether they have a Georgia law license. You can also see where the lawyer went to law school and see what year he or she graduated from law school, which tells you how much real world experience the lawyer has. It also tells you whether there is any “discipline” on record for that particular lawyer, which means whether that lawyer was ever found to have violated the ethical or professional rules of conduct. This is crucial information everyone should have before hiring a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer.

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Friends:

I am happy to share with you that I have recently begun co-hosting a podcast called “See You In Court.” “See You In Court” is a podcast sponsored by the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation, on which I sit as a Board Member.  My co-host is Lester Tate, partner and owner of the law firm Akin & Tate in Cartersville, Georgia.  Lester is also, as I am, a Past President of the State Bar of Georgia and is also a Board Member of the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation.

“See You In Court” podcast is a joint project of the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation and the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Literature, Media and Communication. The Georgia Civil Justice System is a nonprofit foundation whose mission is to educate the public about the Georgia Civil Justice System and its value to the public in enforcing rights and holding negligent actors accountable for injuries they have caused.  The Georgia Institute of Technology School of  Literature, Media and Communication defines new models of intellectual inquiry and practice that bring diverse humanistic perspectives to bear on technological invention and innovation.  The School’s mission is to lead the region, the nation, and the world in researching and teaching the ways the humanities shape and are shaped by science and technology. Understanding technologies in their cultural contexts is fundamental to invention and innovation. The School’s diverse faculty and students assess and inform technological and scientific change by creating, analyzing, and critiquing a broad range of media forms and cultural practices.

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Should your child’s university or college take steps to make sure his or her bunk bed is safe?  Either by lowering the upper bed or, if that cannot be done, by providing railings to keep the child from rolling out of the lofted bed?  This not a trick question. It may seem like common sense to you. The simple answer should be an easy “yes.” Right? But as Coach Lee Corso says on “College GameDay,”  “Not so fast!”

College students’ being injured by falling out of their bunk beds is, apparently, a fairly common and significant problem. You may remember the story of Clark Jacobs, a Georgia Tech student who 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 later and hundreds of hours of therapy, including in-patient rehabilitation at Shepherd’s Spinal Center, Clark graduated from Georgia Tech this summer.

The life-changing episode motivated Clark’s parents so much to try to make dorm rooms safe for students they started the non-profit Rails Against The Danger, whose mission is to educate the public about the danger of lofted beds in dorm rooms and to let students they have the right to demand the university make the bed safe by lowering it or providing safety bed rails.  It is estimated there are approximately 71,000 cases of loft bed/bunk bed-related injuries annually among children and young adults up to 21 years of age. Let that sink in. Some of these falls result in the death of the student. For example, at Miami University in Ohio, a 20 year old student died from a 6 foot fall from his bed in his fraternity. For a risk with potential outcomes so catastrophic, it is truly difficult to understand why universities just don’t simply provide bedrails and ladders with every bunk bed. As Clark Jacobs’s mother points out: “It is ridiculous to take a chance when the danger is so easily avoided. Many campus bunk beds don’t even have ladders, requiring the students to climb up the bed frame to get into bed,” she said.

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You may have heard of the recent death of a Milton high school teacher due to carbon monoxide poisoning while she was in her town home.  At least seven people in the connected town homes were injured, some seriously, by this carbon monoxide poisoning episode. It was so tragic and unexpected. The situation is still under investigation, but officials say they believe the exposure at the town homes was caused by an unoccupied vehicle left accidentally running in one of the town home’s garages. Investigators have since determined someone left their car running in their garage, sending the carbon monoxide through the adjoining homes.

Although this tragedy invoked the call for more people to have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes, I was surprised it didn’t also create an outcry that automobile manufacturers change their faulty design of ignition buttons.  This is referred to as “keyless ignitions.”  It has been well known for some time now that ignition buttons like the ones shown above have a faulty design that doesn’t allow the driver to know easily whether they have successfully turned off their car. There have been numerous instances of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes due to their car still running in their garage that is attached to their home. It is no secret that these ignition “buttons” are defective in design and utilization.

The photographs above are from a rental car I drove recently.  The only visible difference from these two buttons is that one has the very small “OFF” that appears to be illuminated in yellow and the other one has a very small “RUN” that appears to be illuminated in yellow. The one on the right is when the car engine is running. The one on the left is when the car engine is off.  Do you see how hard it is to tell the difference?  Sometimes these engines are so quiet the driver cannot tell whether he or she has correctly pressed the button all the way in to turn off the car. And because these cars have “fobs” now rather than actual keys, you may be carrying the fob in your pocket or in your purse and you may be still close enough to the car even when you are in your home that the car “thinks” the fob is still in the car and it will continue to run. When the garage is attached to the house, carbon monoxide fumes can quickly and easily travel into the home, sickening anyone inside. This is even more likely and foreseeable when the garage is attached to a town home, as it was in the recent tragedy in Milton. Not only did the carbon monoxide travel into the first town home where the running car was garaged, it continued to leak into the attached town homes, sickening others.

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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.

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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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There have been some stories on the news lately about a student who was burned during a chemistry experiment performed during class. Back in August of last year, a teacher in a DeKalb County School performed a demonstration of lighting a dollar bill on fire using ethanol and water. She apparently had performed the same demonstration using just alcohol with little success. When the teacher tried the demonstration using ethanol, the dollar bill, in a glass, caught on fire, broke the glass and traveled across a table onto the student, who had his head down on the table. It severely burned the student.  The student hired counsel who has sued the teacher and the school. They are now reports in the news that the school system won’t pay for his reconstructive surgery.

This really is neither surprising or shocking. The DeKalb School system enjoys the benefit of “sovereign immunity,” which means it is immune from suit. County school systems, county agencies, county departments, really anything to do with counties, cannot be sued successfully for most causes of action.  Sure, you can file suit against them, but 9.9 times out of 10 it will be dismissed on summary judgment based on sovereign immunity.

There are a few exceptions. One example would be a lawsuit for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title II of the ADA provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by an such entity.”  A disabled person who falls within the class of persons protected by the ADA may successfully sue a county for violation of the ADA, for things such as failure to maintain a sidewalk in the county that inhibits that person’s ability to move on the sidewalk.  For example, if a person is confined to a wheelchair, she must be able to use the sidewalk as any capable-bodied person, so the sidewalk must have proper curb cuts to allow the wheelchair to gain access to the sidewalk and there must not be any holes in the sidewalk that would prevent the wheelchair from easily moving over the sidewalk.  Sovereign immunity does not protect a county when it has violated the ADA and it grants the disabled citizen a private cause of action to enforce it.  It is important for private citizens to be able to hold Georgia counties accountable for ADA violations as the number of people in the United States who are disabled in some form continues to rise. For example, it is estimated that one in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities, according to a report in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  Of those disabled citizens, 13.7% have a mobility disability and an estimated 4.6% have a vision impairment. So you can why it is important that even counties not be immune for failure to comply with the ADA.  Disability affects us all.

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