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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?

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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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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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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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There have been two  recent appellate decisions in Georgia that address the morass that is apportionment:  FDIC v. Loudermilk, No. S18Q1233 (Ga. S. Ct. March 13, 2019) and Trabue v. Atlanta  Women’s Specialists, LLC, No. A18A1508 (Ga. Ct. App. March 7, 2019).   Since the Georgia Legislature passed a new scheme of how a plaintiff receives justice in our Civil Justice System some 14 years ago, called “apportionment,” there have been 1,328 Georgia appellate opinions that mention apportionment. This suggests that the law as passed was anything but a model of clarity.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion in FDIC v. Loudermilk reminds me of Mark Twain’s quotation:  “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I believe the rumors of the death of joint and several liability have been greatly exaggerated, ever since its passage in 2005.  Loudermilk makes it clear that joint and several liability is alive and kicking and coexists peacefully right next to apportionment.  Loudermilk, authored by Justice Sarah Warren,  involved a claim against a group of bank directors alleging that the former directors and officers were negligent and grossly negligent under Georgia law for their approval of ten commercial real-estate loans.  This case was tried to a jury in the Northern District of Georgia and the jury rendered a $5 Million verdict against the individual former bank officers. The bank officers appealed the verdict to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which certified the question of whether the Georgia law of apportionment applied to this scenario to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court answered no, that the statute did not end joint and several liability for co-defendants determined to have acted “in concert.”  The Court held “Georgia historically has recognized this principle: “[i]t has always been true that where concert of action appears, a joint tortfeasor relation is presented and all joint tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable for the full amount of plaintiff’s damage.” Gilson v. Mitchell, 131 Ga. App. 321, 324, 205 S.E.2d 421 (1974), aff’d, 233 Ga. 453, 454, 211 S.E.2d 744 (1975) (“We conclude that the opinion of the Court of Appeals correctly states the law of Georgia on this subject and we adopt [its] opinion.”). Cf. City of Atlanta v. Cherry, 84 Ga. App. 728, 731-733, (67 S.E.2d 317) (1951) (rejecting joint-tortfeasor status although plaintiff alleged that defendants acted in concert because plaintiff failed to allege adequately that there was “concerted action in operating [an airport runway] in such a way as to injure plaintiff”).”  Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Loudermilk, S18Q1233, 2019 WL 1303652, at *8 (Ga. Mar. 13, 2019).
This rule supports what many plaintiff’s lawyers have been saying since 2005, i.e., that there is no apportionment until a jury says there is apportionment. Thus, not only apportionment but also joint and several liability charges must be given to a jury and counsel must be allowed to argue joint and several liability.

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Let’s say you have been injured in a car wreck, or in a fall at a store, and the insurance adjuster for the insurance company of the at-fault driver or of the store owner calls you after your injury. They often want to take a recorded statement (which you should NOT give unless you have your lawyer present) about what happened, how you were injured and what your injuries are. Then they might reassure you that they “are there for you,”  and will be looking forward to resolving your claim with you, “don’t worry, everything will be okay,”  or “we’ll take care of you, just let us know when you have finished your medical treatment.”  Makes you feel better, right? So comforting and reassuring. You might even be thinking you can settle your personal injury claim without even having to hire a trial lawyer.  After all,  a trial lawyer will have to be paid for her work and if you can just handle this on your own with this very nice, concerned insurance adjuster, that’s more money for you, right?

WRONG.

One thing that is patently clear that I have come to understand in practicing personal injury law for 30 years in Georgia:  insurance adjusters are not your friends. They are trying to prevent you from being successful on a personal injury claim. They may even resort to trickery, subterfuge, and downright lies.

statefarm         Do you believe that “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there?”  I have previously presented plenty of evidence that the answer to that question of whether State Farm is like a good neighbor  is  a resounding “no.”  If you recall, in my case Eells v. State Farm, State Farm did everything it could possibly do within the bounds of the law (but outside the bounds of moral and ethical decency) to prevent its own policyholder from collecting on an uninsured motorist claim after the policyholder had paid premiums to State Farm for over 40 years. I blogged about that case, which went all the way to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where we prevailed, before it was resolved.  The bottom line is that State Farm will do nearly anything to avoid paying legitimate personal injury claims, including forcing its insureds to endure a trial and potential personal exposure, rather than settle a clear liability suit prior to trial.

My son, a great lover of the sport of basketball, likes to say “The ball don’t lie.”  Well, the two cases I am going to tell you about involving State Farm clearly share the theme of “the ball don’t lie,” meaning the truth ultimately comes out. Two recent trials in Georgia have placed the litigious policies of State Farm in the spotlight.  The first trial was tried last month by James Robson and Robert Glass in Cobb County. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $850,000.00 after just two and a half hours of deliberation.  The at-fault driver, insured by State Farm, had only $100,000.00 in liability coverage. The plaintiff’s attorneys demanded the $100,000.00 to settle the case prior to trial, even though the plaintiff’s medical bills from her injuries were nearly $170,000.00.  This means any verdict for the plaintiff would be very likely to be in excess of $170,000.00.  State Farm had the opportunity (and the contractual duty) to resolve the case prior to trial for the demanded policy limits of $100,000.00.  The plaintiff’s attorneys gave State Farm and extension of time to decide to pay the policy limits and even had the plaintiff’s treating physician speak by telephone to the State Farm adjuster confirming for her the plaintiff required neck surgery from the car wreck.  But did State Farm do the right thing?  No. State offered only $22,500.00 to settle the case, even after admitting their insured was at fault in causing the wreck.  The jury returned what is known as an “excess verdict,”  i.e., over the policy limits, and because State Farm had the clear chance to resolve the case for policy limits, will be on the hook to pay the entire verdict.   You have often heard of “frivolous lawsuits” in the media but you seldom hear of “frivolous defenses.” This case was certainly one of them.

Another was in a case tried last week in Bartow County by my good friends and fellow trial lawyers Morgan Akin and Lester Tate of Akin & Tate in Cartersville.  In that case, the plaintiff  pulled into a roadway after stopping at a stop sign and was struck directly in the rear by a teenage driver. The investigating Georgia State Trooper measured 229 feet of skid marks left by the teenage driver as he tried to stop before rear-ending the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The State Trooper found teen driver at fault. Mom of teen driver then went to State Trooper’s supervisor with photos maintaining the plaintiff just pulled out in front of him. Ultimately, the State Trooper relented and amended the accident report changing fault to that of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff had shoulder surgery and $90,000.00 in medical bills.  State Farm took up the mom’s torch, denied all liability and hired an expert who simply ignored the skid marks.  The plaintiff’s expert accident reconstructionist, Herman Hill, testified that not only did the teenage driver hit the plaintiff in the rear but was going 75 MPH+ at the time of the collision based on the amount of skid marks left by her car’s tires during braking. State Farm doubled down by asserting a counter claim. The Plaintiff made a settlement demand of  100K policy limits initially and then after extensive litigation made a settlement demand of $275,000.00 prior to trial. State Farm never made an offer.  The jury returned a verdict of $300,000.00.  And because State Farm had the opportunity to resolve this case within the policy limits of $100,000.00 but declined to do so, State Farm will be on the hook for the entire verdict.  Can you imagine being rear-ended by a teenage driver going 75 m.p.h. and then the teenage driver tries to blame you for it?

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The tragic news from Disney World in Orlando, Florida this week of a toddler being carried away and killed by an alligator in a lagoon on Disney property has sent waves of terror in every parent whose child has ever waded into any water other than a swimming pool.  My family made many trips to Disney World when my children were young and water is everywhere around the property. It is my understanding that at this particular lagoon at The Grand Floridian Hotel there were “No Swimming” signs posted near the water.  Yet the photos I have seen show chaise lounge chairs on a sandy beach in front of the lagoon.  The beach was, apparently, man made by Disney for the enjoyment of their guests and Disney put the chaise lounge chairs on the beach looking directly to the lagoon. What is the message being sent by Disney?  Come sit in these lounge chairs and enjoy the beach and the water?  Doesn’t the placement of the chairs there and the placement of the sand there act as an invitation to wade in the water?

Disney is now, apparently, placing warning signs there now, along the lines of “Beware of Alligators.” Is this too little, too late?  What is the duty Disney owed to its paying guests to warn them of alligators or to make sure they could not be harmed by alligators while their paying guests are staying at their hotels?

This incident brought to mind a similar tragedy that occurred not too long ago in Georgia, when a senior citizen was, ostensibly, grabbed by an alligator, carried away and killed while she was staying with her children at their home which was on a golf course.  This case was litigated and, ultimately, decided by the Supreme Court of Georgia. The case is Landings Association v. Williams and was decided in 2012. The relevant facts, as discussed in the Court’s opinion are as follows:  Williams, the victim,  was house-sitting for her daughter and son-in-law at The Landings, a planned residential development with a golf course located on Skidaway Island off the Georgia coast. Before The Landings was developed, the land within and surrounding its boundaries was largely marsh, where indigenous alligators lived and thrived. In order to develop the property, The Landings entities installed a lagoon system which allowed enough drainage to create an area suitable for a residential development. After the project was completed in the 1970s, the indigenous alligators subsequently began to move in and out of The Landings through its lagoon systems.

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With college students  going back to school this week and next, many new freshman or transfer students are probably considering joining Greek Life on campus. Most schools have some sort of sorority/fraternity groups, with objectives being to provide an outlet for new students to get to know each other, form group bonds, and to give back to the community, to name a few. Over the last few years, some dangerous and sometimes fatal “hazing” practices by fraternities and sororities have come to light, and many have begun to pose the question: are these organizations as beneficial as they seem?

Some groups suggest that affiliation with a Greek organization leads to higher rates of success later in life. An article by USA Today stated that “85% of Fortune 500 executives were part of Greek life… And college graduation rates are 20% higher among Greeks than non-Greeks.” Psychologically speaking, this can be true. Feeling supported by like-minded individuals definitely contributes to better mental health and in turn, higher likelihood to succeed in life. Being a part of a Greek organization also connects you to generations of alumni with the same affiliation, which is certainly a plus when searching for jobs and making career connections. Sororities and fraternities also have a rich history in our country, the first being founded in 1831. Having a connection to such a renowned historical tradition is very important for some, especially “legacy” families, students who’s mother, grandmother, and so on were members of the same sorority. These organizations also undoubtedly benefit many charities. Each year most groups organize a fundraising event to benefit the charity affiliated with their organization. For example, Phi Mu at the University of Georgia raised $143,942 this year for the UGA Miracle program supporting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of events giving sororities and fraternities a bad and scary reputation. There is always the stigma that Greek groups are associated with partying, drinking and hazing. In some cases, the hazing of potential members has gone way too far. Over the last few years there have been some highly publicized cases of deaths by hazing from groups around the country. The Washington Times reported that since 2005, more than 60 people have died due to fraternity incidents. Recently in California, a family sued after their 19-year old from California State University Northridge died after being forced to hike 18 miles with his fellow Pi Kappa Phi pledges. The Clemson University community was shocked by the death of Tucker Hipps, a pledge of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, after reportedly being killed in a fight with his fraternity brothers over breakfast food. Hipps’ parents are filing a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Sig Ep brothers. Reports of alcohol abuse, sexual assault, and flagrant racism also have been widely publicized over the last few years.

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