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Domino-Effect – Jury Awards over $10 Million to Family of Woman Killed by Inattentive Trucker

Published March 5, 2018 by Anthony Jones, II

The chain of events in a fatal traffic accident can make sorting out where the actual blame should lie very difficult. To make matters worse, sometimes confusion can develop around an accident’s component parts, making a hard job even harder. In cases like this, the finer points are reviewed by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In a tragic chain of events, a Georgia woman died after her vehicle was rear-ended by a commercial tractor-trailer. In the matter of Great West Cas. Co. v. Bloomfield, 313 Ga. App.180 (2011), the case was complicated by the fact that the collision was the result of a separate accident that happened at almost the same time.

What a Domino Effect is During a Motor Vehicle Accident

The dominoes began to fall when the driver of one tractor trailer made an illegal lane change, clipping another vehicle. Approaching traffic slowed to avoid the first wreck, including the car in which the decedent was riding. It was then that the second truck rear-ended the woman’s car, pinning her inside the vehicle and injuring her fatally.

Her family brought a wrongful death suit against both truck drivers, both employers, and the insurance carriers for each. The jury found in favor of one driver and against the other, determining that the blame for the death was 100 percent the fault of the rear-ending driver. The jury awarded the estate of the deceased woman $10.42 million dollars in damages and $44 million in punitive damages against the second defendant.

The prevailing driver requested that $69,000 in attorney’s fees be awarded to their side. The trial court denied the motion because of their initial offer to the plaintiffs early in the action for $25,000 which the trial court considered to be made “in bad faith,” being an unreasonable offer and an unrealistic assessment of liability in a wrongful death case. (As the trial progressed, this same defendant made a $1 million dollar offer to settle which was also rejected by plaintiffs.)

Attorneys for the driver in the first accident never believed that they would be held liable for the second collision. They claimed that, for this reason, they did not prepare for the case in the same way they would have had they accepted any blame. They did not depose witnesses related to the second accident, nor did they anticipate that they would be held liable for any part of the damages. They maintained that the $25,000 offer was more than generous given their view. The second offer of $1 million dollars was made as the trial progressed and more facts came to light.

The trial court and, ultimately the appellate court affirmed that the offer was not made in good faith and was, therefore, grounds to deny attorney’s fees to this party.

Even the court of appeals recognized that the approach taken by the prevailing driver was a risky one. Two appellate judges dissented in the final decision. Nevertheless, the official position of the State of Georgia was that the first offer was not a serious one and could not be rewarded with attorney’s fees.

Personal injury law is, as some would say, a different breed of cat. The rules that apply and the way in which personal injury lawyers prepare for trial is often lost on other attorneys who don’t have the experience it takes to win such a case. At The Millar Law Firm, personal injury law is all we do. For that reason we can give our clients the benefits of years of experience at winning.

If you believe you have a personal injury case to bring before a Georgia Court, call the specialists at The Millar Law Firm for a free case evaluation. Allow us to review your case to determine how you should proceed. Allow us to advocate for you – your recovery may depend  upon it.

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