Atlanta Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Interchange sectionThose experienced with the law know that courts are institutions of procedure. Although many associate this exacting adherence to process with the rules to which the parties in litigation must abide, the court itself is also bound to procedural requirements. Indeed, a court’s failure to adhere to necessary process can create as much needless work for litigants as the litigants’ own failures. This dynamic is illustrated in a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Gonzalez v. Georgia Department of Transportation, in which the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court for failing to make a decision on a predicate issue before getting to the merits of the case.

This case started with a motor vehicle accident on a section of Interstate 16 in Candler County, Georgia. While navigating in rainy weather, the driver of the vehicle lost control and crashed into a tree. A passenger in the vehicle who was injured as a result of the accident brought suit against the Georgia Department of Transportation, alleging that the driver of the vehicle lost control because the vehicle hydroplaned on a pool of rain water and that the Department of Transportation caused this event by negligently breaching its duty to construct, maintain, and inspect the cross-slope design of Interstate 16 in order to assure that rainwater properly flowed away from the road. In response, the Department of Transportation answered the complaint and then filed two motions.

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LawPrior to the day of a possible trial, there can be months –if not years – of legal proceedings designed to remove non-meritorious claims from the court’s consideration or narrow the issues that may ultimately be brought before a jury. Among the most important steps prior to trial is the summary judgment phase. Following sufficient discovery, a party will move for summary judgment and argue, in essence, that even looking at the adduced evidence in a manner favorable to the other party there are no material issues of fact for a jury to decide and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Considering an examination of the evidence is critical for making this determination, since there will often be arguments concerning what evidence is properly before the court for consideration and what evidence can permissibly be disregarded. This battle is on display in Blake v. Kes, Inc., a recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Blake arose from the death of a developmentally disabled adult at a residential habilitation facility in Lithonia, Georgia. The decedent had been diagnosed with several developmental disabilities from birth, including organic personality disorder, moderate intellectual disability, and partial complex seizures. The decedent spent his days at the habilitation facility in accordance with a contract between the facility and his parents. Beyond his aforementioned disabilities, the decedent had a history of absconding from designated areas at the facility and required constant line-of-sight supervision in addition to medication. On the day of his death, the decedent arrived at the facility around 9 AM and upon arrival complained of dizziness and a poor overall feeling. At around noon, while eating lunch, the decedent asked if he could leave and return to his assigned task of cleaning the computer desk, but a caregiver told him he had to finish his meal and then rest thereafter. However, when this caregiver stepped out of the room for a moment, the decedent left the room and walked out of the building. Staff began to track the decedent’s movements, and security camera footage shot at 12:19 PM later showed that the decedent walked alongside a parked van, faltered, leaned into the van, and then fell forward. Shortly afterwards, a facility worker arrived at the decedent, who was unresponsive, breathing faintly, and had a weak pulse. The workers called 911 and performed various resuscitation techniques. Emergency personnel arrived later and continued performing emergency care. However, the decedent remained unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The decedent’s cause of death was listed as “cardiac arrest status post likely seizure.”

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