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The Georgia Court Rules that Drunken Driver’s Parents can Move Forward with a Claim for the Death of their son, but reminds us that the Power of the Trial Court to deny such claims is Alive and Well

In 2008, a young man was driving drunk when he hit an illegally parked tractor-trailer vehicle, setting the drunk driver’s vehicle into flames, and killing the drunk driver along with his passenger. The parents of the drunk driver are seeking damages from the owner and operator of the illegally parked vehicle.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that the parents can move forward with the claim but caution that the trial Judge still retains the power to dismiss cases such as this based on the fact that the Plaintiff was drunk and, therefore, his negligence caused, or at the very least significantly contributed to, the accident. The Court of Appeals further stated that, in this case, however, the issue of who was more at fault should be a question for the Jury to decide; was the drunk driver, or the owner and operator of the illegally parked vehicle, more at fault that ultimately caused the death of this young man and his passenger.

A lawsuit over the passenger’s death settled for an undisclosed amount. The parents of the drunk driver, however, have pursued a claim against the owner of the tractor-trailer and the tractor-trailer’s insurance company claiming “but for” the vehicle being illegally parked, the fire would have never started and their son would not have died.

Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley initially granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 (g), which states in pertinent part that a tort plaintiff, “shall not be entitled to receive any damages if the plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible for the injury or damages claimed.” Tanksley said it was clear that the drunk driver’s negligence was equal to or greater than that of the defendant and that reasonable minds couldn’t disagree over that conclusion. The plaintiffs appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals and won before a unanimous panel.

The Court has further remind the parties that settlements in cases involving drunk drivers are rare regardless of the negligence of the other driver. Either way, the Court of Appeals has determined that the Jury as the finder of fact in this case should make the ultimate decision to determine whether or not the actions of the drunk driver outweighed the actions of the illegally parked tractor-trailer. In comparative negligence cases such as this, the comparative negligence test is whether or not one side was more negligent than the other, and to what percentage negligence should be assigned. Both were at fault in this case. Who was more at fault, and how fault should be assigned, will be question for the Jury. The case discussed in this blog post is Reed v. Carolina Casualty Insurance Co., No. A13A2270.

This case further illustrates what I have stated in prior blog posts about drunk driving such as the blog post about the Parents of Teen Killed in Drunk Driving Crash, Groom is Charged with DUI in the Death of his Wife, and Man is Hit and Killed by Drunk Driver that reiterates that there are no winners in these cases.

In the case in point today, two (2) young men are dead. Parents and families have lost their loved ones and no amount of money will bring them back, and no amount of money will replace the value of life that these two (2) young men were sure to enjoy. A driver of a truck who stopped since he had driven his limit and was fatigued, which is in accordance with the law, but may have parked off course will now be haunted with the deaths of these two (2) young men even if a Jury absolves him from some portion of liability. These are senseless situations that continue to reinforce the message to not drink and drive under any circumstances.

If you are a loved one have been injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, then Contact Us as we have successfully handled these cases and can help you recover what you are entitled to if this horrific event has happened to you or your loved one.