COVID-19 Update: How We are Serving and Protecting Our Clients.

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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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We are now one year into the Covid-19 Pandemic. And I can’t even believe I just wrote that sentence.  One entire year. I confess that when we first went into lockdown back in March 2020 (remember that?) I foolishly thought maybe the entire thing would be over in a month or two. Boy, was I wrong! I have been able to adjust to virtual everything to keep my cases moving. Zoom depositions, Zoom hearings, Zoom mediations, Zoom podcast taping (See You In Court), Zoom everything but a Zoom jury trial. And that’s where I draw the line. The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court just extended (for the 11th time)  the suspension of jury trials (both civil and criminal) for another month by Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency. Many judges and lawyers haven been working to find a way forward to get out jury trials started back. The consensus is that backlogged criminal trials will be first in line, followed by civil jury trials. One of my friends and fellow trial lawyers makes a good point: why should criminal trials go ahead of civil trials as long as the accused person is out on bond awaiting trial? Justice for our civil case clients if just as important as Justice for crime victims and society. But I haven’t really heard anyone explain to me yet why criminal trials will go first once we get jury trials back up and running. Today I was in a meeting with a judge who said she didn’t think civil jury trials would be back until 2022.  That would be two whole years without civil jury trials. Fortunately, in many of my cases I have been able to move the ball forward, resolving numerous cases through Zoom mediations and some through just good old-fashioned settlement negotiations. But for those cases I cannot resolve, the only hope for resolution is a jury trial.

In that same conversation with a Fulton State Court judge, she mentioned there may come some point that parties will be ordered to conduct a trial before everyone is vaccinated and while we are still required to wear a mask and social distance. I haven’t seen that yet and, hopefully, won’t be faced with that, but, for now, if I am ordered by a trial judge to do so I would have to object. There are numerous reasons why that have convinced me it is not in my clients’ best interests to move forward with their one and only jury trial in their one and only case until the Pandemic is completely over, finished and done with. For good. I have been asked about this not only by other lawyers, but also by numerous non-lawyer friends (yes, I have some of those) as well. It seems to be an interesting conversation starter.

So why do I think it is not in my clients’ best interests to have a jury trial now during the Pandemic?  Without going into too much detail, here are just a few:

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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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Between the push for citizens of the world to be more environmentally conscious and the limited options for recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, cycling has almost never been more popular. Drivers of cars and trucks must pay extra close attention now to more bicycle riders than usual. After all, bicycles are considered vehicles in most contexts of Georgia law, so drivers are responsible for sharing the road with cyclists—and vice versa. 

Of course, an accident between a car and bicycle is completely different than an accident between two cars. Cyclists have much less infrastructural protection, for one, meaning that injuries sustained on a bicycle that collided with a car have a good chance of being catastrophic. As a result, many drivers who hit cyclists panic and quickly drive away from the scene. 

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

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Gone are the days of standing perilously close to a busy city street and hailing a yellow taxi to take you to some other location uptown or downtown. Now, you can “hail” a cab from the comfort of your own home and convenience of your smartphone. The two most popular applications for ride-sharing services are Uber and Lyft, and each app handles millions of transactions each day. 

With so much traffic (vehicular and digital) flowing through these apps, auto accidents associated with the apps are bound to happen. In a typical fender-bender, the at-fault driver typically has to pay up through his or her insurance carrier—usually a fairly straightforward process. What happens, though, when a driver for one of these ride-sharing companies (classified as an independent contractor) is involved in a serious car wreck? The fallout is fairly complicated, but we lay out below what you should expect. 

What Happens if you are Injured by a Ride-Sharing Driver?

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I was checking the newly released opinions from the United States Supreme Court and Taylor v. Riojas (11/2/2020) caught my eye.  I’m not sure why.  I must have seen “qualified immunity” somewhere in the summary. Taylor v. Riojas was one of the bunch of qualified immunity cases coming up at the same time before the Supreme Court and on which there was much speculation over whether the Supreme Court might overturn the qualified immunity doctrine. “Qualified Immunity” is a judicially-created doctrine that gives police officers and correctional officers the benefit of the doubt when someone under their control has suffered injury.  This Judge-made doctrine shields an officer from suit when she/he makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she/her confronted. Excuse the pun, but it is a get-out-of-jail-free card to officers.

I call the Taylor v. Riojas opinion a Loch Ness Monster because it denied correctional officers in Texas the usual qualified immunity. Thus, like the Loch Ness Monster, you have heard of cases in which (hypothetically) qualified immunity was denied but you have never actually seen one.  Well, now you have. The United States Supreme Court reversed the 5th Circuit and remanded the case for trial.  Before we take stock of that, you need to know the facts of the case.  I am quoting directly from the 2 and 1/4 page opinion, perhaps the shortest in Supreme Court history.

“Petitioner Trent Taylor is an inmate in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Taylor alleges that, for six full days in September 2013, correctional officers confined him in a pair of shockingly unsanitary cells. The first cell was covered, nearly floor to ceiling, in “ ‘massive amounts’ of feces”: all over the floor, the ceiling, the window, the walls, and even “ ‘packed inside the water faucet.’ ” Taylor v. Stevens, 946 F.3d 211, 218 (CA5 2019). Fearing that his food and water would be contaminated, Taylor did not eat or drink for nearly four days. Correctional officers then moved Taylor to a second, frigidly cold cell, which was equipped with only a clogged drain in the floor to dispose of bodily wastes. Taylor held his bladder for over 24 hours, but he eventually (and involuntarily) relieved himself, causing the drain to overflow and raw sewage to spill across the floor. Because the cell lacked a bunk, and because Taylor was confined without clothing, he was left to sleep naked in sewage.

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We received some sad news this Thanksgiving weekend about a dear friend.  Justice George Carley had died.

Many tributes are now coming in about Justice Carley. One, from Judge William Ray, (U.S.D.C.,Northern District of Georgia) touched me and let me know we had similar relationships with Justice Carley. The Georgia Supreme Court, from which he retired, also paid tribute to him and I urge you to watch it.  These tributes reminded me of my relationship with Justice Carley that I now share with you in memory of him.

Justice Carley was a proud “Double Dawg,” meaning he graduated from both undergraduate school and law school at The University of Georgia, often referred to as just “The University,” as if there were no others.  He is the only person to have served as both Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and the Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

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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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Through all the pain, turmoil, stress, and financial distress you go through after suffering a serious personal injury due to someone else’s negligence, you would think that getting compensation for your troubles is easy. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Defendants in personal injury cases will try anything (within reason) to either avoid paying you, the plaintiff, or, at the very least, decrease the amount they have to pay you. This blog will cover four common ways defendants may contest their liability in a personal injury case. 

  1. You didn’t take actions to mitigate the damage to your health and wellbeing. The defendant, more or less, admits that their negligence or actions caused harm to you. However, this defense is activated when the defendant claims that you didn’t take reasonable actions to mitigate, or lessen, your injuries. For instance, you might encounter this defense if you waited a day or two to get medical attention after a serious car accident. 
  2. You assumed the risks involved (assumption of risk). To successfully use this defense in a personal injury case, the defendant must convince the judge or jury of three things: 

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Most car accidents result in either minor injuries or no injuries at all to the drivers and passengers involved. This information is useless to individuals who, unfortunately, are involved in serious crashes that require urgent medical care. Even worse, more than 100 people in the U.S. die every day due to negligence on the road. 

If everything goes as it should after an accident, the insurance company of the at-fault party will pay out the amount that victims (or their families) are entitled to. Sometimes, though, if the insurance company isn’t being fair, litigation may be necessary. If you have to pursue justice in court, you need to be aware of the types of damages (compensation) you may receive. 

Economic Damages

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