Those 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.