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Articles Tagged with personal injury

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I have been thinking a lot about “justice” lately.  I have just finished a week long medical malpractice trial in DeKalb County in which I did not think justice was served for the family who lost their loved one (more on that in a minute) although I don’t criticize the jury in any way. That alone is probably a difficult concept for lay persons to accept, but it is the truth for trial lawyers.  I also can’t remember a time when the word “justice” has been thrown out more in the media, in social media, in sermons and in everyday conversations than it has in the last few weeks due to the events in Ferguson, MO.  That is extraordinary for the United States, a nation founded upon the very principles of justice. Try Googling “was justice served” and you’ll get a myriad (actually 1,920,000 ) of opinions regarding the Ferguson shooting, with about half of the articles responding in the affirmative and about half responding in the negative.  Maybe this rough split of 50/50 is proof in and of itself that the justice system usually gets it right.

I was also skimming through a book titled “Justice” recently which noted that most Americans don’t take any oath to support and uphold the Constitution or even the laws of the state in which they reside.  I find that interesting because I have done so several times, first when I was sworn in to practice law in the state courts of Georgia, then when I was sworn in the Georgia Court of Appeals, then when I was sworn in the Georgia Supreme Court,  then when I was sworn in in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, then when I was sworn in to the United States Supreme Court, and then as an officer of the State Bar of Georgia and then, most recently, when I took the office of President of the State Bar of Georgia. That’s a lot of swearing!!  But each time (at least 7, maybe more) I swore I would protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Georgia and the laws of the State of Georgia, “so help me God.”  I take that oath as seriously as any single person has ever taken it. Part of that sacred oath is to protect and defend our justice system, criminal and civil.  You will never hear me criticizing our justice system. There may be some things wrong with it, but it is still the greatest system ever devised by man for self-government.  As Winston Churchill said about Democracy:  “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

I say all of the above because after 27 years of practicing law in Georgia, I am on the verge of concluding that a victim of medical malpractice in this state cannot obtain justice.  Jurors here in Georgia will look for the smallest shred of doubt, will do almost anything, not to hold a physician liable for his negligence.   I can’t pinpoint one cause…there are probably many.  TV advertisers must shoulder a lot of the blame.  I am not a TV advertiser.  I am an actual trial lawyer.  When I stand in front of a jury to begin jury selection, those jurors are already suspicious of me because they know only of personal injury lawyers who advertise on TV with silly slogans or theme music, or has-been actors touting the lawyer’s legal acumen.  Although I have never advertised on TV or anywhere for that matter, I am lumped in with those who do because I am a personal injury lawyer. I am guilty by association.

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I am working on a products liability case today that I have pending in Cobb County, Georgia in which my client was severely burned by a sulfuric acid drain opener (SADO). “Burn” may not be the accurate term…it is more like she had her skin dissolved by the sulfuric acid drain opener. She has been treated in three burn units and has undergone nine surgeries, including numerous skin grafts and fractional laser procedures. Yet she still has permanent scars over much of her body.

Do you know what’s in the drain opener you have under your sink right now?  Have you ever used a Sulfuric Acid Drain Opener?  My guess is you have no idea whether you have ever used a sulfuric acid drain opener.  SADO’s, as they are known in the chemical industry, are arguably too hazardous to sell to the public for use by the average consumer. And the average consumer has no idea just how ultra hazardous they are. SADO’s are often pure sulfuric acid, which nothing much added to them except water. They are typically “professional strength” and really should only be sold to professionals. Some manufacturers of SADO’s don’t even employ chemists to create their formula nor was their chemical formula originally created by an actual chemist. This makes the product extraordinarily dangerous to consumers as no professional chemist has even verified what is in the formula so the manufacturer really has no idea of exactly what they are selling.

In many cases, the label on SADO’s are not adequate to warn a lay user sufficiently about the type of chemical burns they can cause if they come in contact with a person’s skin or body. Keep in mind that in many third world countries SADO’s are used as a weapon, often in domestic violence incidents in which men throw sulfuric acid onto women’s faces to disfigure them permanently.  This is the same strength sulfuric acid that is being sold to consumers as a SADO.  For many years a group of concerned chemists have tried to get the sale of sulfuric acid drain openers banned in the United States.  These concerned chemists have petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission numerous times to try to get the Commission to take action to ban SADO’s because they are simply too hazardous for use by the average homeowner. But, apparently, politics always seems to get in the way and nothing happens.  Manufacturers keep making money and uninformed consumers keep getting harmed.

Today I read a funny article about a jury trial in Florida in which the jury sent the trial judge a note asking for a whiteboard and markers and a “big bottle of wine.”   I thought that was pretty cute.

Going to trial is a big decision. Although I have tried many, many trials in many counties in Georgia, most of my clients have never been involved in any trial and the trial  of their personal injury case will be the one and only time they will ever step foot in a courtroom and the one and only time the case will be about them. You can imagine this might produce some anxiety.jurycourtroomdrawing

One of the questions often asked is, if we go to trial, who will decide my case? The answer to that question for all of the cases I try is the jury. I try only jury trials.  If a  judge decides your case, which can happen in Georgia if no one requests a jury trial (very rare in personal injury cases ) or if both parties consent, it is called a Bench Trial. You may be familiar with the trial of Oscar Pistorius going on right now in South Africa.  Mr. Pistorius is being tried for murder in the death of his girlfriend.   In South Africa, such a trial will be decided by the very judge who is presiding over the case. Just recently it was announced that the judge will render a verdict in that case on September 11, 2014.

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I am asked this question a lot:  “Can I sue ______?”  The short answer is always yes, you can sue anybody.   The real question is “If I sue _____, will I win?”  Because although you can file a lawsuit against anybody for practically anything, what matters is whether you would win the case, whether that type of cause of action is viable under Georgia Law, or whether that type of case would be thrown out long before you ever saw a jury.   As a plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyer, I must take and pursue cases for clients that only have a very high chance of success.  My fee is entirely contingency based, meaning I don’t get paid, regardless of how much time and effort (blood, sweat and tears) I put into your case unless I win the case. Period. So when I hear these ridiculous claims that trial lawyers file “frivolous” lawsuits I get furious, because  good trial lawyer could not possibly afford to file “frivolous” lawsuits.  A lawyer who files “frivolous” lawsuits won’t be in business very long.

So today I am addressing the pretty often-asked question of whether I can sue the County.  Let’s say the County, or a County employee, has harmed or physically injured you in some way and you want to sue them for money damages. Piece of cake, right?  Not… so… fast!

Unlike the State and unlike most cities (municipalities) in Georgia, a Georgia County enjoys wide sovereign immunity. The State of Georgia has waived its sovereign immunity for personal injury claims by creating the Georgia Tort Claims Act. There are a million hoops you must go through under the GTCA first to be able to sue the state, but if you know how to go through those hoops and go through them all just the right way, you may have a successful personal injury claim against the State of Georgia. The same is true for cities in Georgia, although they fall under a different state statute that allows them to be sued for negligence.  But no so for the counties.  Which begs the question:  Why are counties so unique?

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