GA Supreme Court Overturns Dismissal of Personal Injury Lawsuit Because of Incomplete Discovery

A recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court reinforces the notion that personal injury claims need to be fully litigated and not dismissed prematurely.

The case involves a woman who was injured as she was leaving a high school graduation ceremony. As she was stepping from a sidewalk onto a roadway, her leg became lodged in an opening in the curb where water drained from the roadway.

The woman sued various school officials alleging that they had negligently inspected, maintained and repaired the sidewalk and road where she fell.

The school officials sought to dismiss the case,arguing that they were immune from liability because the actions in question involved discretionary decisions. Under Georgia law, public officials can be sued only for actions that involve no discretion and simply fulfill specific job duties.

Even though the parties had exchanged little factual information (known as pre-trial discovery), a trial court judge dismissed the case.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the trial court was wrong to throw out the lawsuit because the underlying facts had yet to be fully developed. The court said it was too soon to dismiss the case because the injured woman might develop evidence entitling her to a judgment based on the allegations in her complaint.

In particular, the job duties of the officials or their overall job descriptions had yet to be determined. It is possible, the court wrote, that evidence could come to light of explicit job tasks or duties for each official related to graduation night, or more generally related to the inspection, maintenance and repair of curbs and water drains on school property.

The court decision reaffirms that when parties cannot reach a settlement, the Georgia civil trial system favors giving injury victims their day in court to present their personal injury claims at trial. Judges should dismiss a claim prior to trial only in those relatively rare situations when the parties do not dispute any material facts, and one of the parties is entitled to a judgment in its favor as a matter of law.

An Atlanta slip-and-fall injury lawyer can meet with you and explain your legal options if you have been seriously injured due to the fault of others.

The case is Austin v. Clark.