Injured Georgia Driver Entitled to Jury Trial for Accident Caused by ‘Phantom Driver’

Georgia motorists injured in an accident caused by an unknown driver may be entitled to insurance coverage from their own insurance carrier (known as uninsured motorist coverage, or UIM), if UIM is purchased as part of a driver’s automobile insurance coverage.

In some cases, the unknown driver may be a hit-and-run culprit, or a “phantom driver” whose carelessness causes the accident.

In an accident caused by a phantom driver, Georgia law requires either testimony from another eyewitness about how the accident occurred or evidence in the form of physical damage to the victim’s car. These conditions are meant to deter fraudulent claims.

The Georgia Appeals Court recently addressed what is needed in terms of eyewitness or corroborating testimony to get a claim for uninsured motorist coverage before a jury.

The case involved the personal injury claim of a man who alleged his vehicle rolled over after he swerved to avoid a vehicle that had pulled out in front of him from a shopping center.

An eyewitness gave a sworn affidavit, a recorded statement and deposition testimony about the accident. The witness’s affidavit provided the strongest corroboration of the injured driver’s allegations against the actions of the phantom driver, but the eyewitness was less certain on the details in a recorded statement and deposition given later.

An insurance company trying to avoid paying the claim pointed out these differences between the affidavit and the statements taken later, and also challenged the witnesses credibility because he knew the vehicle owner. Based on these differences between the Affidavit and the later statements, the trial court dismissed the case, effectively denying UIM coverage to the victim.

On Appeal, the higher court ruled that the Trial Court had made a mistake. The Appeals Court ruled that an eyewitness’s account of the accident – even though it was somewhat contradictory about the accident details – was enough to allow the motorist to have a Jury to hear the case. It would then be up to the Jury to determine whether the witness was credible.

The decision reaffirms the jury’s essential role of weighing the credibility of eyewitness testimony. When sufficient evidence exists to support an injured motorist’s claim, a trial court should not dismiss a claim before trial.

“[F]or purposes of [Georgia law],” the court wrote, “neither [the eyewitness’s] credibility nor his contradictions are relevant to whether his testimony provides sufficient corroboration. What matters is that [he] gave testimony stating that he saw another car and that the driver of that car had caused the accident in a way that supports [the plaintiff’s] account of how the accident occurred. Whether [the eyewitness] is to be believed remains for the jury to decide.”

Insurance companies frequently attempt to deny coverage to individuals injured in motor vehicle accidents for any number of reasons. An Atlanta car accident attorney can meet with you and explain your legal options if you have been injured due to the fault of others – even “phantom drivers.”

The case is Leslie v. Doe.