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Lawsuit seeks to hold GDOT, municipality liable for road debris accident

Several weeks ago, our blog discussed how a recently released study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that road debris was responsible for over 200,000 car accidents from 2011 through 2014, and, even more shocking, caused roughly 39,000 injuries and another 500 fatalities from 2001 through 2014.

If these numbers still seem hard to believe, consider the story of a woman right here in Georgia who suffered devastating bodily trauma after the car in which she was riding struck a piece of equipment that had fallen off a work truck.

What exactly happened?

On New Year's Eve 2010, the woman was riding in the passenger seat of a friend's car on Georgia 400, just north of former toll plaza, when a metal vice grip, later discovered to have fallen from a Department of Transportation truck, came crashing through the windshield.

Tragically, she was placed on a hospital ventilator for several weeks, and later forced to undergo several rounds of surgery to repair the damage to her brain, eyes and face.

Did the victim pursue legal action?

The accident victim, who still suffers from depression and an inability to find suitable employment, eventually filed a lawsuit naming both the Georgia Department of Transportation and the city of Sandy Springs, accusing both entities of negligent conduct concerning the failure to remove the metal vice grip from the highway.

The lawsuit was stopped in its tracks, however, after a judge in the State Court of Fulton County granted both entities requests for summary judgment.

What is summary judgment?

In basic terms, summary judgment is essentially when one party to a lawsuit files a pretrial motion arguing that there are "no triable issues of fact" remaining after consideration of all the evidence. If granted, it means that the presiding judge has found that based on both the evidence presented and the existing body of law, there is no way for the opposing party to prevail at trial.     

Does the victim have any more options?

The victim has appealed the grants of summary judgment to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the evidence demonstrates that both GDOT and Sandy Springs deviated from protocol and were therefore negligent.

Specifically, she argues in her appeal that a GDOT official and a Sandy Springs police officer were aware that the metal vice grip had caused two prior accidents, yet failed to remove the obstruction from the road or erect the necessary lane barriers.

How does Georgia define negligence?

In general, the four elements required by state law for establishing negligence on the part of a defendant include:

  • Standard of due care: The plaintiff must demonstrate that circumstances warranted a duty of care toward other parties.
  • Breach of duty of care: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the negligent party failed to take proper actions that would have avoided an unreasonable risk to the injured party (i.e., breached this duty).
  • Proof that the injuries were the result of negligence: The plaintiff must clearly demonstrate that the injuries were the direct result of the negligence on the part of the defendant.
  • Proof of actual damages: There must be actual damages resulting from the negligence. 

Stay tuned for updates in this case.

As always, please remember that that if the negligence of another driver -- or another entity -- has caused you serious personal injuries, you can seek to hold them liable for their actions. 

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