Car Accident FAQs
- My Accident Was Clearly the Fault of the Other Driver. Why Do I Need a Lawyer When I Can Handle the Claim Myself?
- Is Georgia a No Fault State for Car Accidents?
- What Happens If the At-Fault Driver Is a Lyft or Uber Driver? What Are the Insurance Limits?
- What Is the Law in Georgia on Negligent Entrustment of a Commercial Motor Vehicle?
- What Is the Law in Georgia on School Bus Injuries and Sovereign Immunity?
You can file all the necessary paperwork and represent yourself in court. However, the legal system is chock full of obscure rules, written and sometimes unwritten. Do you know how to present expert witness testimony under the Rules of Evidence? Do you know how to file and respond to motions for summary judgment or motions exclude evidence? Your chances of getting an optimal outcome on your own are slim and none. There is an old maxim, “He who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.”
A former client explained the value of hiring a knowledgeable attorney like this: ““After having to have a hole drilled in an automobile part at a machine shop 10 years ago, I told my uncle I could have done that. My uncle replied, ‘You are doing this once these guys do it every day.’ That simply means if you don't know where to turn, get help and get an expert.”
The insurance company, whose job is to defeat and minimize your claim, has legions of lawyers who make a career of crushing claimants. To prevail, you must level the playing field with competent representation.
You may have one personal injury case in your entire life. Whatever you get for it will have to do for life. Are you likely better off trying to figure it out on your own or getting an attorney who handles such cases every day for decades?
An experienced personal injury lawyer will do some or all of these things, as fits the case:
- Professionally evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case based upon the facts and his or her experience.
- Obtain documents to support your losses
- Assure that all insurance claims, court documents and other paperwork are filed correctly.
- Dig out crucial pieces of evidence that may be difficult to obtain.
- Interview witnesses.
- Represent you in negotiations with insurance companies and their attorneys.
- Negotiate on your behalf while advising you on the pros and cons of settlement.
- Go to court for motion hearings and, if necessary, trial.
Some of the questions to ask in selecting a personal injury attorney include:
- How long have you been in practice?
- Do you focus on personal injury?
- How often do you handle cases like mine?
- Are you nationally board certified in civil trial practice? In civil pretrial practice?
- Have you published books or articles in professional journals related to my type of case?
- Have you been invited to speak at continuing legal education programs about my type of case?
- What types of verdicts and settlements have you secured for injured people like me?
- What factors do you see helping my case, and what might work against me?
- What bar associations and professional organizations do you belong to? What leadership positions have you held in those organizations?
- Who will be my day-to-day contact if I have questions or concerns?
No. Georgia is one of a dozen states that do not have some form of “no fault” auto insurance. Under “no fault” insurance, a person injured in a car wreck looks first to his own insurance company to pay medical bills and wage loss up to the amount of “no fault” PIP (personal injury protection) coverage that was purchased. Georgia had “no fault” auto insurance law from 1975 to 1991, when it was repealed.
Automobile policies in Georgia must include at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per person for bodily injury liability coverage, and uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage to match the liability coverage unless the policyholder rejects that. Auto policies often also include “Medical Payments” coverage to assist with medical bills of injured occupants of the vehicle up to the amount of that category of coverage that is purchased. There is no provision for covering lost income without fault.
No fault insurance coverages from other states sometimes come up in Georgia personal injury cases. Such laws typically include some minimum standard for determining whether there is a “serious injury” for which the injured person may sue the party at fault. If there is a conflict between the “serious injury threshold” under another state’s no-fault law and Georgia law that does not require such a threshold, Georgia courts apply the Georgia law.
Uber and Lyft drivers in Georgia are classified as independent contractors. Uber drivers are hired by Rasier, LLC to provide another layer of insulation between the drivers and Uber Technologies (GA), Inc. Uber describes itself as a technology company rather than a transportation company, and goes to great lengths to avoid tort liability for the negligence of Uber drivers.
The good news is the difference between insurance coverage for Uber and for most taxi drivers in Georgia. Taxi drivers are also usually designated as independent contractors, but their only insurance coverage if a $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident limitation of bodily injury liability coverage.
Uber drivers have their own individual policies, which may be $25,000. But when they are on duty – either carrying or a passenger or matched with a rider on the Uber app and en route to pick up a passenger – they are covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy with James River Insurance Company.
Lyft drivers have liability coverage with limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per incident for bodily injury.
In catastrophic truck crashes that kill or catastrophically injury innocent people, the root cause is very often systemic mismanagement by a company that puts behind the wheel of a huge semi truck a person who never should have been driving it. The driver may be a good guy who because inadequate training or experience, bad driving record, or physical incapacity was not well-fitted for the job. That can result in a claim for negligent entrustment.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Georgia recognized that Georgia law of negligent entrustment follows the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 390, without reservation or exception. Restatement § 390 provides:
One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.
Zaldivar v. Prickett, 297 Ga. 589, 602-03, 774 S.E.2d 688, 697 (2015), et cit. (Majority opinion by Justice Blackwell, dissent by Justice Benham on apportionment issue only).
A 1997 Court of Appeals decision said that the Georgia rule on negligent entrustment is narrower than the Restatement rule, requiring actual rather constructive knowledge. Carolina Cable Contractors, Inc. v. Hattaway, 226 Ga.App. 413, 416 (4), 487 S.E.2d 53 (1997)(Smith, J.) (physical precedent only). However, because that decision is “physical precedent only” it is not binding on lower courts.
Circumstantial evidence can be used to prove actual knowledge. Carolina Cable, 226 Ga. App. at 416-17. The direct evidence of degrees of actual knowledge is circumstantial evidence from which jurors may reasonably infer a greater degree of actual knowledge than that to which a trucking company admits.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 CFR § 391.23, requires interstate motor carriers to investigate the driving background of driver applicants. “The investigation may consist of personal interviews, telephone interviews, letters, or any other method for investigating that the carrier deems appropriate.” 49 CFR § 391.23 (c)(2). The minimum required includes requests for information to prior employers and checking state motor vehicle records.
However, that is only the “minimum” required. 49 CFR § 391.23(d). “By the regulations’ own terms, employers may investigate driver employment histories and driving records beyond the minimum standards established by the regulations themselves. The trucking industry’s needs and concerns involving drivers extend to a range of past accidents, incidents, mishaps, occurrences and events well beyond those encompassed by § 390.5.” Cassara v. DAC Services, Inc., 276 F.3d 1210, 1225 (10th Cir., 2002) It is a floor not a ceiling, for checking driver backgrounds. If a motor carrier has actual knowledge of a collision within the previous three years that is not revealed in those records, a duty arises to check the accuracy of the driver applicant’s self-serving description of the incident.
A Plaintiff may get to a jury “by showing that an employer had actual knowledge of numerous and serious violations on its driver’s record, or, at the very least, when the employer has flouted a legal duty to check a record showing such violations.” See, e.g., Mastec North America, Inc. v. Wilson, 325 Ga.App. 863, 755 S.E.2d 257, 259-60 (2014).
Circumstantial evidence of knowledge of such factors of incompetency is sufficient to create a question of fact for jury determination on the issue of negligent entrustment. It is sufficient to show knowledge on the part of the entruster by presenting facts from which it could reasonably be inferred that the entruster knew of the driver’s poor driving habits or skills. See, e.g., CGL Facility Management, LLC v. Wiley, 328 Ga. App. 727, 732-33 (2), 760 S.E.2d 251 (2014).
Even if any one of these factors standing alone might be enough to create a jury question on negligent entrustment, the overlapping combination of several pertinent factors may be sufficient to authorize jurors to rationally conclude that a trucking company was aware that it was unsafe to entrust an employee to operate a large truck, at least without further training or in some instances evaluation of sleep disorders.
Such claims are extremely fact-sensitive and must be evaluated in light of the specific combination of facts in each case.
School bus injury cases are not the same as car wreck cases. Lawyers handling those need to know the legal wrinkles unique to school bus personal injury and wrongful death cases in Georgia.
The biggest wrinkle in school bus injury cases is immunity. Sovereign immunity, or governmental immunity, is the legal doctrine that the state (“sovereign”) is immune from civil suits unless it waives that immunity. In Georgia, public schools have sovereign immunity from most injury claims. When we get calls about kids injured at school, about 99% of the time I have to tell folks they don’t have a case. I won’t take up space here to outline the extremely narrow exceptions for injuries at school.
Similarly, official immunity protects government officials and employees from liability for discretionary acts but not ministerial acts.
A ministerial act is one that is simple, absolute, and definite, arising under conditions admitted or proved to exist, and requiring merely the execution of a specific duty. A discretionary act, however, calls for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment, which in turn entails examining the facts, reaching reasoned conclusions, and acting on them in a way not specifically directed.
Official immunity protects public officers acting in their official capacity from suit unless they negligently perform a ministerial duty or act with actual malice or intent to cause injury while performing a discretionary duty. While a departmental policy requiring certain actions under certain situations may convert an activity from discretionary to ministerial, the decision whether specific acts are ministerial or discretionary is determined by the facts of the particular case. If the public employee must balance multiple factors and consequences, that makes the act discretionary. Standard v. Hobbs, 263 Ga.App. 873, 589 S.E.2d 634 (2003).
Sovereign immunity and official immunity are not the same thing and often must be analyzed separately. Primas v. City of Milledgeville, 296 Ga. 584, 769 S.E.2d 326 (2015).
Generally, the task of school officials “to monitor, supervise, and control students is a discretionary action protected by the doctrine of official immunity” are discretionary and thus immune from liability. That includes virtually all issues of supervision of students. See, e.g., Payne v. Twiggs County School Dist., 232 Ga.App. 175501 S.E.2d 550127 Ed. Law Rep. 448 (1998). Qualified immunity protects individual public agents from personal liability for discretionary actions taken within the scope of their official authority, and done without wilfulness, malice, or corruption. Under Georgia law, a public officer or employee may be personally liable only for ministerial acts negligently performed or acts performed with malice or an intent to injure. The rationale for this immunity is to preserve the public employee’s independence of action without fear of lawsuits and to prevent a review of his or her judgment in hindsight.
The main exception to sovereign immunity in Georgia public schools is for injuries while a child is being transported by school bus as the legislature by statute has waived immunity for negligent use of a local government motor vehicle up to a limited dollar amount. Generally, sovereign immunity is waived with regard to injuries or deaths that arise out of negligent use of a covered motor vehicle up to either $500,000 per person and $700,000 per incident, or a higher amount if the local government entity adopts by resolution or ordinance a higher waiver, and either becomes part of an interlocal risk management agency or purchases liability insurance in such higher amount.
A 1991 amendment to Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX extending sovereign immunity “to the state and all of its departments and agencies” includes county-wide school districts.
This sovereign immunity “can only be waived by an Act of the General Assembly which specifically provides that sovereign immunity is thereby waived and the extent of such waiver.” If a student is injured in a collision with another vehicle, then sovereign immunity is waived to the limited extent provided by statute. Coffee County School District v. King, 229 Ga.App. 143, 493 S.E.2d 563 (1997).
At least three Georgia statutes are involved in this issue.
First, O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51 provides for waiver of governmental liability “for a loss arising out of claims for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle,” but only “to the extent of the amount of insurance so purchased.”
Second, O.C.G.A. § 36-92-2 provides for waiver of “sovereign immunity of local government entities for a loss arising out of claims for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle” up to $500,000 for injury or death of any one person in any one occurrence, or up to $700,000 aggregate for two or more people, for incidents after January 1, 2008. Paragraph (b) provides, “The sovereign immunity of local government entities for a loss arising out of claims for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle is waived only to the extent and in the manner provided in this chapter and only with respect to actions brought in the courts of this state.” It also provides for $50,000 limit on property damage claims.
O.C.G.A. § 36-92-2(d) further provides, “(d) The waiver provided by this chapter shall be increased to the extent that: (1) The governing body of the local governmental entity by resolution or ordinance voluntarily adopts a higher waiver; (2) The local government entity becomes a member of an interlocal risk management agency created pursuant to Chapter 85 of this title to the extent that coverage obtained exceeds the amount of the waiver set forth in this Code section; or (3) The local government entity purchases commercial liability insurance in an amount in excess of the waiver set forth in this Code section.”
Third, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1090, provides, “The various school boards of the counties, cities, and independent school systems employing school buses are authorized and required to cause policies of insurance to be issued insuring the school children riding therein to and from school against bodily injury or death at any time resulting from an accident or collision in which such buses are involved. The amount of such insurance shall be within the discretion of the respective boards.”
So what happens if a child is injured or killed in a school bus incident that does not arise out of “negligent use of a covered motor vehicle?” This has come up in cases where a child was left for hours on a parked school bus, or was injured in an assault by another student.
In a case in which a special-needs middle school student was left locked in a school bus parked in the school’s transportation-system parking lot after school for hours, the Georgia Supreme Court has held that O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1090, which authorizes school systems to purchase insurance on school buses, does not waive sovereign immunity of a school district to the extent of such insurance. Fulton County School District v. Jenkins, 347 Ga. App. 448, 820 S.E.2d 75 (2018). Any such waiver of sovereign immunity must be express rather than implied. While other statutes expressly waive sovereign immunity to limited extent, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1090 does not.
In scenarios arising out of negligent operation of a school bus, sovereign immunity it is waived up to the amounts set forth in O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51.Tift County School Dist. v. Martinez, 331 Ga.App. 423771 S.E.2d 117 (2015).
There have been numerous appellate court decisions deciding whether immunity was waived in specific circumstances. Here are just a few illustrative cases.
Sovereign Immunity Waived
Loading at school and the process disembarking from buses until a child reaches the curb. DeKalb County School Dist. v. Allen, 254 Ga.App. 66, 561 S.E.2d 202 (2002).
Child was injured attempting to cross an adjacent street just moments after disembarking from the school bus as “use” of the school bus encompassed unloading the children and assuring that they reach a place of safety which might include crossing a street while bus was “standing guard” with it lights flashing and all visual signals operating. Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Greene,174 Ga.App. 120, 329 S.E.2d 204 (1985).
Sovereign Immunity Not Waived
One student attacked by another student shortly after they exited a school bus, as no collision or accident was involved. Rawls v. Bulloch County School District, 223 Ga.App. 234477 S.E.2d 383 (1996), certiorari denied Feb. 14, 1997. “When a student riding on a school bus suffers an injury that is not proximately caused by an accident or collision in which the bus is involved, such as when the student is injured due to an attack made by a fellow student, OCGA § 20–2–1090 is inapplicable.” Payne v. Twiggs County School Dist., 269 Ga. 361, 362(1), 496 S.E.2d 690 (1998).
Child struck while waiting at a bus stop. Brock v. Sumter County School Bd., 246 Ga.App. 815, 542 S.E.2d 547 (2000).
Child was struck by a car when walking home from an unauthorized drop-off site on a busy road when the bus had driven two miles away, as “use” of the bus does not encompass the school district’s route planning. Roberts v. Burke County School Dist., 267 Ga. 665, 482 S.E.2d 283 (1997).
Grandparents boards bus without authorization to try to discuss with bus driver child’s suspension due to abusive conduct and falls getting off the bus. Hancock v. Bryan County Bd. of Educ., 240 Ga.App. 622, 522 S.E.2d 661 (1992).
If a school bus driver drops off a child at an unapproved, unsafe location, there may be waiver of immunity but not if the school district’s insurance policy defines “use” of the bus so as to exclude this. Roberts v. Burke County School Dist., 267 Ga. 665, 482 S.E.2d 283 (1997).
Thus, in evaluating injury cases arising from school bus operations, a lawyer should consider the following steps:
- Investigate the incident.
- Get the police report.
- Immediately send open records requests to both the law enforcement agency for any photos, video and witness statements they may have. There may have been a video on the bus.
- Interview witnesses insofar as possible.
- Determine what security cameras may have been in the area and obtain their recordings.
- Since the waiver of sovereign immunity is limited, investigate possible liability of other potential parties.
- Send Open Records requests to school district for:
- Copy of each insurance policy applicable to the bus.
- Copy of any interlocal government risk management agreement applicable to the bus.
- Copy of each resolution, ordinance or rule adopted setting an amount for waiver of sovereign immunity.
- Copies of all policies and procedures regarding bus operation, maintenance, and job descriptions of personnel involved in operation and maintenance.
- Request insurance coverage information from the insurer under O.C.G.A § 33-3-28, and refer to that statute in addition to the Open Records Act in the letter to the school district.
- Review Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards:
- 571.213 Standard No. 213; Child restraint systems.
- 571.213;49 CFR § FMVSS213Outline Safe, Ride News Publications
- 571.225 Standard No. 225; Child restraint anchorage systems
- 571.208 Standard No. 208; Occupant crash protection.
- Obtain and review reference materials on school bus safety:
- Georgia Department of Education School Bus Safety Materials
- Georgia Department of Education Transportation Rules
- Georgia School Bus Driver Training Manual (download)
- Georgia Commercial Drivers License Manual, Chapter 10
- School Bus Safety Handbook
- The School Bus Challenge CD
- CDL Exam Secrets – Passengers & School Bus Endorsements