New blood test may aid rapid diagnosis of traumatic brain injury

For decades I have  represented people with so-called “mild” traumatic brain injuries. A “mild” traumatic brain injury  (TBI) may be defined as one affecting someone else’s family, not your own.

These typically involve a concussion, with or without a loss of consciousness. Emergency medical personnel and emergency department physicians often focus primarily on more obvious physical injuries. If there are visible and immediately life threatening injuries, broken bones or internal bleeding, that is the focus.

Subtle but life altering brain injuries are easily overlooked. Unless there is a gross brain bleed readily visible on a CT scan of the brain, it may be missed. Microscopic level changes to the brain such as diffuse axonal shearing may not be visible for years, often not until autopsy after death. The dangers of post-concussion syndrome have gained great public attention through the class action for former professional football players whose concussions year ago led to complications such as cognitive impairments, depression, and increased vulnerability to subsequent concussions.

Until now, if there was no gross anatomical injury or brain bleed visible on a brain CT scan, the diagnosis of concussion was often subtle, subjective and easily missed. The standard diagnostic protocol has involved physical examination, a series of screening questions for cognitive and neurological symptoms, e.g., “who is the President,”  and often a CT scan to diagnose TBI.

But while CT scans are currently the  standard of care in checking for acute bleeding or swelling in the brain, nearly 30% of patients with a normal CT scan showed signs of TBI when when doctors follow up with an MRI scan. However, MRI is more expensive, slower to produce reports, and not available everywhere. Missing a diagnosis or waiting days for one could have significant consequences.

However, according to a study published this week in Lancet Neurology, many concussions may be detected quickly with a blood test. The study reports that many patients whose concussions are not detected on CT but are detected on MRI have an elevated level of the brain-specific protein glial fibrillary acidic (GFAP). Thus, elevated GFAP may be used as a biomarker to help physicians detect TBIs.

The study used i-STAT™ Alinity™ device from Abbott Laboratories. This is a handheld, portable blood analyzer that produces test results in minutes by measuring the patient’s GFAP protein level.  Such rapid diagnosis might be able to fill a significant gap in emergency departments, sport fields and battle fields.

The i-STAT Alinity device is available outside of the U.S. and is not yet commercially available in the U.S. If it works out as hoped, and is approved by the FDA, this new test could speed diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries, reducing the critically important time required for diagnosis and treatment of TBI.


 

Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence”Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section.

Mr. Shigley has earned three national board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident LawHe is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group. 

He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. 

In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State  Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia.  He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2019, chair 2012-13),  State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994). 

A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower,  father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.

 

 

 

Ken Shigley earns third national board certification – in Truck Accident Law

Ken Shigley of Shigley Law LLC, based in Atlanta, Georgia, recently earned his third national board certification, in Truck Accident Law, from the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Certification is based upon exhaustive testing, documentation of extensive experience in the field of trucking accident litigation, writing samples, and professional recommendations from lawyers and attorneys familiar with the applicant’s work.

The National Board of Trial Advocacy operates under authority of the American Bar Association.   “There is no dispute about the bona fides and the relevance of NBTA certification…. Disclosure of information . . .  both serves the public interest and encourages the development and utilization of meritorious certification programs for attorneys.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens in Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990). Mr. Shigley previously attained NBTA board certification in Civil Trial Law (1995) and Civil Practice Law (2012).

Why hire a board certified attorney? 

 

Truck Accident Law deals with the procedural, substantive and practical issues unique to collision cases involving commercial tractor trailers, buses and other commercial motor vehicles and all of the people and entities in the transportation cycle.

The trucking industry is comprised of 3.5 million professional drivers. The size and weight of commercial motor vehicles and trucks in an accident cause significant damage to drivers, passengers and property. The US Department of Transportation reports that there are around 500,000 trucking accidents each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration approximately 4,000 people die and 104,000 are injured annually. One out of every eight traffic fatalities involves a truck collision. Trucking is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the US Department of Transportation.

Shigley is a member of the Board of Regents of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys.  ATAA recognizes attorneys who have documentable knowledge, real experience and proven results in handling truck crash cases so that victims can choose lawyers with confidence. It provides lawyers who handle truck crash cases for victims with the very best cutting edge education and resources available to both improve their knowledge and skillset.  Lawyers can claim to be anything in TV ads, on the Internet or in promotional material, but every ATAA Board Certified member has been thoroughly vetted and tested.

The National Board of Trial Advocacy provides board certification for attorneys who have demonstrated skill and expertise in a particular field and have proven it through rigorous examination and testing by the NBTA. The NBTA is one of the organizations accredited by the American Bar Association to demonstrate that lawyers certified have an enhanced level of expertise and substantial involvement in the specialty area of certification. The standards are designed to enable the NBTA to evaluate thoroughly the objectives, standards and procedures of attorneys and to facilitate public access to appropriate legal services.

Similar to the medical profession in which the body of knowledge is so large that it’s impossible for one doctor to remain current in all specialty areas, the body of law has grown so large and complex that attorneys can no longer be all things to all people. Unlike the medical profession, which has embraced specialization and specialty certification, the legal arena has been slow to acknowledge publicly what it has known for years: nearly all lawyers specialize but do so without substantiation beyond “reputation” or simply saying it is so.

Mr. Shigley’s two prior NBTA board certifications are Civil Trial Law (1995) and Civil Practice Law (2012). 

Civil Trial Law may include civil litigation, personal injury litigation, and any other type of litigation that is not criminal in nature, such as property disputes, construction or insurance claims and a wide array of other civil controversies. Second, usually money damages are at stake in civil litigation.

Despite what is seen on television dramas, cases do not always have to go to trial. However, it is impossible to know in advance which cases will settle and which will go to trial, and because settlement amounts reflect predictions about the most likely result if the case is tried, it is wise for people to hire well qualified trial attorneys to handle their claims or defense of claims whether they think the case will be tried or settled out of court. It is important to understand

Trial attorneys must have knowledge,experience, great communications skills and a thorough understanding of group decision making dynamics and persuasion. In trial practice a misstep can end a case, so having a trial attorney who is making his trial debut may be dangerous, especially in a case involving substantial damages.

Civil Practice Law certification involves preparing and resolving cases before trial, including litigation proceedings from inception of litigation through discovery, pretrial motions and hearings, and alternative dispute resolution procedures in all areas of substantive law before state courts, federal courts, administrative agencies, and arbitrators.

 

 


Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence” Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section.

Mr. Shigley has earned three national board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident LawHe is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group. 

He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. 

In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State  Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia.  He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2019, chair 2012-13),  State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994). 

A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower,  father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.

Confidential Settlements – bad secrecy or good privacy?

Though common in litigation, confidential settlements can be controversial.

While confidentiality agreements had help expedite settlement, there are concerns that secret settlements can work against public safety by covering up health and safety hazards. As with much in life, the hardest choices are not between good and bad, but between good and good, and between bad and bad.

Under a confidential settlement agreement or order, some or all terms of a settlement are kept secret. Defense lawyers routinely include a confidentiality clause in a proposed release when there is a large settlement. Sometimes it is a throwaway item in a boilerplate document. In other cases they hang tough on confidentiality.

For defendants and their insurers, there are several obvious reasons to seek confidentiality of settlements. Especially in cases in which multiple future claims are likely, such as allegedly defective manufactured products or allegedly widespread conduct, they may seek confidentiality of settlements so as not to encourage additional claims or impair business reputation.

Public safety advocates criticize secret settlements that hinder the ability to identify threats to public health and safety and hold wrongdoers accountable. As Justice Brandeis noted, “[s]unlight is the best of disinfectants.” Where a case involves the potential for widespread public hazards due to product defects or systemic misconduct, there is good reason for plaintiffs to resist secrecy. In the discovery context, there are many factors to consider that are beyond the scope of this discussion of settlements.

Regarding settlement, plaintiffs’ lawyers should: (1) discuss secrecy concerns for public interest in advance with clients; (2) remember that a settlement agreement filed with the court is itself a public record; (3) insist that the settlement comply with states laws, court rules and ethics rules; (4) insist on plaintiff’s ability to disclose settlement to government agencies, accountants, bankers, and financial advisors. See Leslie A. Bailey & Amy Radon, “Confronting Court Secrecy Issues from Discovery through Settlement: Measures to Protect Both Your Client and the Public Interest.”

Defendants may also desire confidentiality of settlements when plaintiffs’ lawyers have figured out a legal strategy that, if widely known in the legal community, could disrupt a multi-billion dollar business model. We have been involved in that repeatedly over the past thirty years but can’t talk about it.

Public safety concerns about confidentiality tend to be less when the cases arises from a single highway collision that, if reported in the media, could impact a defendants’ business but would not leave members of the public exposed to greater danger.
Plaintiffs often just go along with a confidentiality clause in settlement just to get their money sooner. However, it is not always just a matter of convenience. Plaintiffs recovering large amounts of money may desire confidentiality as much as the defense.
If a large settlement is publicized, it can affect relationships with friends, relatives and neighbors who might resent what they see as a financial windfall. Relatives and friends may suddenly come out of the woodworks as soon as they smell money. Investment advisors and charities may besiege the plaintiffs who have come into big money. It is common to agree to confidentiality of a settlement where client quietly lived in a small town and did not want their sudden wealth to distort relationships with friends and neighbors.

We once had a simple, uneducated, unsophisticated client from a rural county who had enough folk wisdom to recognize his vulnerability to such entreaties. In addition to confidentiality of the settlement, he opened a bank account two counties away from home, with a bank that did not have a branch in his home county. Both his initial cash disbursement and monthly settlement annuity payments were automatically deposited in that account. Disconnected from the community where he and all his relatives lived, there was virtually no risk of anyone he knew learning about his vastly improved financial status. He remained in the 150-year-old log cabin that been his family’s home since pioneer days, though considerably upgrading it inside. He worked a while longer to qualify for a state pension, then with a nephew started a “you pick ‘em” berry farm on the family land. With his confidentiality protected, he was able to live unobtrusively and undisturbed by greedy people for the remaining 25 years of his life.

Another client whose son died due to an obscure brake design defect was an immigrant from a Third World country that was emerging from a brutal civil war when we settled his case. As he came from a politically prominent family in his home country, he had an opportunity to take a cabinet position in the new government of his nation. The brutality of the losing side of the civil war was legendary so there were serious concerns for personal safety if anyone back home knew that he was a millionaire. The defendant auto manufacturer also wanted confidentiality of our settlement for all the usual reasons. After determining that ours was the only known incident in the country arising from that brake defect, and that the defect was corrected in all subsequent model years, we determined that the risk to public safety was remote. Thus, we and the manufacturer’s attorneys made a joint motion for a confidentiality order and to seal the court file. The client then returned to his home country to explore his options for public service. However, he determined that due to endemic corruption he preferred to return to Georgia and buy a business.
The terms of a confidentiality clause are negotiable. For example, in one recent case that was settled for $8,000,000, in which both sides wanted confidentiality for different reasons, we included the following language:

In consideration of $100 of the total amount set forth in Paragraph 2.0 of this Agreement, the undersigned agree and acknowledge that the terms and provisions of this Agreement, with respect to the actual amount paid, shall be kept in strict confidence, from inception of the agreement, moving forward. The undersigned further acknowledge and agree that the settlement amount may be revealed only with the written permission of Defendants and Insurer. The only exceptions to this promise of confidentiality are that a party may, without securing the prior written permission of the opposing parties, provide information about this Agreement and the settlement it memorializes as follows:
a. to the Internal Revenue Service or the Georgia Department of Revenue upon request; b. to the court in any proceeding to approve or enforce the terms of this Settlement Agreement so long as the Settlement Agreement is filed under seal;
c. to a health insurance company, health care professional, or others asserting a claim for subrogation or reimbursement for medical expenses paid;
d. as required by any governmental agency or by process of law, so long as the party(s) provides opposing parties with written notice via certified or statutory overnight mail of such governmental agency requirement or process of law and grants the opposing parties an opportunity to contest such governmental agency requirement or process of law in advance of any disclosure by the party(s) and, further, so long as any entity receiving that information is informed of this confidentiality agreement prior to the disclosure of information protected by it; and
e. to a party(s)’s attorneys, professional accountants, and financial advisors, spouse or professional tax consultants with whom that party(s) have a confidential relationship.
f. Counsel for Plaintiff may report the fact and amount of this settlement to any verdict database and in firm marketing materials, though without revealing the names of the parties, defense counsel, Insurer, county of venue, or the date or location of the subject incident.
If the undersigned is asked about any claim described in the recitals or released in Section I of this agreement, the undersigned may respond that “The case has been resolved” or words to that effect.

Blatant violations of confidentiality agreements and orders are relatively rare, in part because the consequences of violation are a deterrent. Remedies available for breaching a confidentiality clause are generally the same as those awarded for other contractual breaches. Nominal or compensatory damages may be awarded in appropriate cases.

Because proof of damages for breach of confidentiality is difficult, such contracts often include a provision for liquidated damages in amount sufficient to deter violations. Most courts have refused to award punitive damages.

Lawyers drafting confidentiality agreements may specify remedies including monetary liquidated damages, injunctive relief, costs, or attorneys’ fees. Liquidated damages amounts should not be so high as to be deemed punitive and thus potentially void.

If it is a confidentiality clause of a contract, that is governed by the same legal rules that govern other types of contracts. That is why settlement agreement often include a consent confidentiality order. But if the confidential settlement becomes an order of the court, the order itself ordinarily becomes a public record. One method to assist in keeping the terms confidential is to have the official record sealed. We have agreed to that where the plaintiff had strong reasons to desire confidentiality. In such cases, the court should independently weigh the need for privacy against the public’s interest in having access to public records.

When parties to subsequent cases seek discovery of prior settlements, confidentiality of settlements is challenged. Some courts allow discovery of confidential settlement agreements only where there is a particularized showing of a likelihood that admissible evidence be generated by the discovery of the terms of the settlement agreement. Other courts have allowed discovery of confidential settlement agreements, provided the party seeking discovery demonstrates that the information is relevant.


Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence” Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section.

He is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group, and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. 

In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State  Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia.  He also has served as chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (2012-13),  State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994). 

A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower, father of two adult children who are happily married, and an elder in his church.

Tradition of Excellence Award: “The Calling to Become a Virtuous Lawyer”

On June 7, 2019, Ken Shigley was presented the Tradition of Excellence Award by the State Bar of Georgia General Practice and Trial Section. It is a lifetime achievement award given annually to four lawyers and judges with long experience. Many  prior recipients of the award were more illustrious and deserving. Mr. Shigley’s acceptance remarks follow:


The Calling to Become a Virtuous Lawyer

Good morning and thank you. Those of us receiving this award may have one thing in common. We have outlived our severest critics as well as many dear friends and loved ones.

Forty-two years ago yesterday, Judge Robert Noland swore me in as member of the Bar at the 1956 Douglas County courthouse that is now a “midcentury modern” museum. I wish he and his dear Betty could be here today.

The person I most wish could be here is my bride, Sally, who was my best friend and cheerleader for 35 years, and beat me on the race to the Father’s house two years ago after a 29-year sojourn with recurring brain tumors. She is with me in spirit. Our good son, Ken Jr., and his bride, Jessica, are here. Our amazing daughter, Anne, and her husband, Steve, could not make it from New Hampshire. That’s a long trip for breakfast.

Since these remarks will be published, and some younger lawyer starting out might read them, I will resist the temptation to just tell jokes and war stories.

We can make a good living in law, sometimes a very good living. But we should never forget that law is much more than a way to make money. It is not just a job or a business, but a calling. Viewed with the right perspective, the law can offer among the best opportunities to help people who are hurting and to temper and resolve human conflict.

However imperfectly, as we pursue our calling we should strive to incorporate into personal and professional life the classical virtues. You won’t always get it right – I surely haven’t – but we should keep these as our aspirational goals.

1. PRUDENCE (PRACTICAL WISDOM). The prudent lawyer can recognize that the perfect is often the enemy of the good, and that the hardest choices are not between good and bad but between good and good and between bad and bad.

In my first year as a lawyer, an old attorney told me three rules for the practice of law.

  • Always get to office early on Monday because people who have been stewing about their problem all weekend will hire the first lawyer they can find Monday morning. The 2019 version of that might be a 24/7 case intake system to promptly capture prospects.
  • Never let the sun set on your client’s money. When you get it in, get it out to the client. In 2019, that must include proactive dealing with liens so the client has her money free and clear when you disburse. I have a paralegal preparing for her bar exam who knows more about minimizing liens than anyone here. Above all, never even consider borrowing even five cents from your trust account. That is the road to hell.
  • Always go to the bathroom before  the courtroom. Some things never change.

To those three old kernels of practical wisdom I would add these:

  • Continue learning and growing. I once knew a lawyer who was very proud that he had not read a book after graduating from Harvard Law School and took no continuing legal education courses beyond the bare minimum required. Don’t be that guy. Read widely both within and outside your practice niche. The minimum CLE requirement is 12 hours per year; aim for 80 or more. Get the best CLE in your practice area you can find. ICLE has a lot of great offerings. There is a lot of good material in online CLE programs you can listen to in the car or in the gym. The best CLE in your niche may be in a distant state. If so, Delta is ready when you are.
  • Master your law office accounting system so that you are not overly dependent on staff, and develop a close relationship with a good CPA.
  • Hire slow and fire fast. Invest in good staff. When you get a good staff person, pay more than the competition and invest in training.
  • If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late.

2. FORTITUDE (COURAGE) involves the toughness required to stand resolute for a cause or client and work against all odds to see that justice is done, even at great personal, financial and occasionally even physical risk.

3. TEMPERANCE (MODERATION) is reasonable, common sense, healthy moderation of habits, and maintenance of a healthy balance in professional, personal and family life.

4. JUSTICE embodies a sense of fairness and morality. Though we cannot ignore economic reality, we should not be so totally focused on money that we fail to serve the cause of objective fairness.

5. FAITH motivates us to persevere and to serve even when reason tells us all is lost.

6. HOPE that out of the messy conflicts with which we must labor in the law, something good and worthwhile may somehow emerge.

7. LOVE is that unselfish concern on some level for the welfare of even the most annoying and unlovable clients, witnesses, staff, colleagues, judges, court staff and even adversaries. It should become radically unselfish and gracious, beyond mere feeling, attraction, affection or compassion. Without love, justice turns to cruelty. To manifest love for the unlovable, we need to develop both a kind of dangerous unselfishness and a capacity to exercise “tough love,” urging folks to cut out their foolishness.

Someday all our beautifully framed diplomas and certificates will wind up in a bin at an estate sale. Someone may pay fifty cents for the frames, or they may go in the dumpster. When a neighbor died a few years ago in his nineties, his Wharton MBA was found on the basement floor at the end of the estate sale. When I had an estate sale at my house recently, to downsize two years after my wife passed, some of the professionally framed certificates that I hung proudly on my office wall forty years ago went to the landfill.

Compared to the infinite scale and complexity of the universe, our lives are infinitesimally small and finite. But in this snippet of time and space we occupy, we are called to interpret the moral order of Creation into pragmatic legal solutions for the messy problems presented to us, and to use our skills to temper the chaos to which human nature gives rise.

Being able to recognize this calling and our peace-making and problem-solving abilities may allow us to regain, and live with, a degree of passion and purpose in the face of difficult circumstances and never-ending temptations to ethical compromise.

I know better than anyone that I am not truly worthy of that calling or deserving of this award, but thank you.

Why it is important to immediately hire a real trucking trial attorney after a catastrophic truck crash

When a family member is killed or seriously injured in a crash with a tractor trailer, a normal human instinct is to wait a decent interval before consulting an attorney. Then one may be inclined to take one’s time talking with a hometown lawyer who handles an occasional car wreck case along with divorces, criminal cases and real estate closings.  Meanwhile, trucking companies and their insurance companies are busy burying incriminating evidence.

A recent case in our office illustrates the importance of striking hard and fast to preserve evidence. While a truck crash victim was in ICU at the local hospital for three days, lingering in a coma on the front porch of eternity, a relative reached out to one of my colleagues who immediately brought me into the case.

While the undamaged truck  was still in police impound, we immediately filed a petition in the Superior Court of the county where the crash occurred for temporary restraining order to lock down a long list of physical and electronic evidence for expert inspection. We recovered telematic data that proved the truck was going 10 MPH over the speed limit, still accelerating, until it crashed into a line of cars stopped at a red light.

We also recovered from the truck dashcam and driver view video. It dramatically showed in split screen the truck speeding into the line of stopped cars without slowing or braking while the truck driver idly gazed around with bleary eyes. That video concluded with our victim’s car exploding into the truck’s windshield.

If we had not acted quickly to obtain a court order to preserve evidence, much of that critically important data would have been “lost” and we never would have seen it.

I really wanted to try that case before a jury. Our focus groups felt the case was worth an impressive amount in “high eight figures.” But the clients chose to accept a confidential settlement in the “high seven figures” rather than go through the emotional ordeal of trial. I cannot argue with the family’s choice for quiet closure.

Standard operating procedure for trucking companies and insurers is to send a rapid response team to the crash scene before the vehicles are removed, sometimes before an ambulance can remove a victim. The rapid response team generally includes a defense lawyer, investigator and accident reconstruction expert. They work under the cloak of trial preparation under the supervision of legal counsel in an effort to keep their work secret.

When a victim’s traumatized family is in a hospital vigil or planning a funeral, the trucking company’s insurer has a rapid response team combing over the evidence. They may persuade police investigators to see the defense point of view and quietly delete telematics and video data that would be damning.

By the time the victim’s family hires a lawyer who knows anything about litigation of serious truck accident cases, the most important evidence may have disappeared. We have had cases where truck driver logs and other critical evidence was “lost” while State Troopers were focused on directing traffic and removing debris from the highway and a rapid response team combed over the truck.

Another mistake that families of victims often make is to choose a lawyer who does not litigate serious truck crash cases. That may a good hometown lawyer who handles regular car wreck cases but does not have expertise in trucking. Or it may be a “personal injury settlement mill” that advertises heavily but just tries to flip cases fast to get the easy money without of serious work.

That includes law firms that run expensive television ads and billboards with pictures of big trucks. They may claim to have legions of trucking lawyers, but are not involved in any of the national organizations of trucking law experts and do not do the serious work involved in such cases. If those firms can’t settle easily, they may associate a trucking specialist, but by then evidence is likely lost.

Too often families of crash victims, not knowing any better, hire a lawyer who solicits them directly or through an agent or “runner” in the days after the crash. Such solicitation of victims is an ethical violation punishable by disbarment in Georgia. If you want to hire a lawyer who is willing to commit a major ethical violation in order to get the case, remember that when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.

The Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys is a great place to find a real trucking attorney.

If a family member is the victim of a catastrophic truck crash  in the Southeast, call us at (404)253-7863.


Ken Shigley is  a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group, and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

Mr. Shigley is 2019 recipient of the Tradition of Excellence from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice and Trial Section. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. 

In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State  Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia.  He also has served as chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (2012-13),  State Bar Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994). 

A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower and father of two adult children who are happily married.

Why it is important to immediately associate a trucking litigation specialist when you are called about a catastrophic truck crash

You are a great lawyer in your area of practice. You are also smart enough to know when a big case may require prompt action outside your comfort zone.

Just as a trial lawyer may not feel comfortable handling a complex real estate, divorce or estate planning matter, a great lawyer in those fields may not want to risk a client’s rights by trying to figure out how to handle a catastrophic truck crash case.

When you get a call from a friend or client that a family member has been killed or seriously injured in a crash with a tractor trailer in Georgia, one common reaction is be to defer the trouble and expense of serious investigation, assuming you can settle quickly for the known policy limits.  You may get the “low hanging fruit” that way but miss millions of dollars in potential recovery for your client that is not immediately obvious on the surface. If that happens, you may miss a reporting deadline with your E&O carrier before you recognize the mistake.

It is common for trucking insurance companies to tender a first layer of insurance coverage and make soothing conversation while concealing additional layers of coverage. We had a case in which an excess insurance company denied in writing that it insured the trucking company. But we kept digging. A year later that insurer paid out $3 million for the trucking company it had denied insuring.

While victims and their family attorneys wait for the insurance company to “do the right thing,” trucking companies and their insurers may busy burying incriminating evidence. Standard operating procedure for trucking companies and insurers is to send a rapid response team to the crash scene before the vehicles are removed, often before an ambulance can remove a victim. A rapid response team generally includes a defense lawyer, investigator and accident reconstruction expert. They work under the cloak of trial preparation under the supervision of legal counsel in an effort to keep at least part of their work secret.

When a victim’s traumatized family is in a hospital vigil or planning a funeral, the trucking company’s insurer has that rapid response team combing over the evidence. They may bring in investigators who are retired state troopers to coax less experienced law enforcement officers to the the defense point of view. At the same time, they may be quietly deleting electronic data that would be damning.

By the time the victim’s family decides to aggressively push the case and gets a lawyer experienced in litigation of serious truck accident cases, the most important evidence may have disappeared. We have had cases where critical evidence was “lost” at the scene while State Troopers were focused on directing traffic and removing debris from the highway and a rapid response team combed over the truck.

A recent case in our office illustrates the importance of striking hard and fast to preserve evidence. While a truck crash victim was in ICU at the local hospital lingering in a coma before death, a relative reached out to a lawyer in another practice area he happened to know. That lawyer, whom I have known all his life, then immediately called me.

While the undamaged truck  was still in police impound, we immediately filed a petition in the Superior Court of the county where the crash occurred for a detailed temporary restraining order to lock down evidence. With the help of our expert, we recovered telematic data that proved the truck was going 10 MPH over the speed limit, still accelerating until it crashed into a line of cars stopped at a red light.

We also recovered from the truck dashcam and driver view video. It dramatically showed in split screen the truck speeding into the line of stopped cars without slowing or braking while the truck driver idly gazed around with bleary eyes. That video concluded with our victim’s car exploding into the truck’s windshield. It was a powerful exhibit.

If we had not acted quickly to obtain a court order in order to preserve evidence, the truck would have been put back in service  and much of that critically important data may have been “lost.” We would never have seen the video or the telematic data.

There was a discovery fight about access to the truck driver’s cell phone for a forensic download. Coincidentally, the solicitor general in the county where the crash occurred issued a search warrant to obtain the cell phone for forensic evaluation. Cell phone data showed that the truck driver had been texting on his phone rather than sleeping all but three hours the night before.

Further investigation revealed that a medical examiner had signed a document stating the driver was disqualified due to non-compliant obstructive sleep apnea, though the trucking company denied that it had received that report.

We also found that the company was on notice of a prior incident in which the truck driver rear-ended another car stopped at a stop light. Despite knowing of the incident, the company failed to obtain a copy of that accident report which would have revealed the driver lied about what happened.

I really wanted to try that case before a jury. Our two focus groups valued the case in “eight figures.” But the clients chose to accept a confidential settlement in the “high seven figures” rather than go through the emotional ordeal of trial. I cannot dispute the family’s preference for quiet closure.

While a good lawyer in an unrelated area of practice, the family’s attorney readily recognized that he did not have expertise in trucking litigation. By associating a trucking lawyer, he made over one million dollars for helping with client relations and serving as “second chair” without investing his own funds in the substantial case expenses.  Choosing to annuitize that fee seven figure fee, he now has a financial plan substantially improving the quality of the rest of his life.

Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(e) recognizes that clients are best served when lawyers can bring in other attorneys with needed areas of expertise, and still share in the responsibility and the fees. It provides:

(e) A division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:

(1) the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or, by written agreement with the client, each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation;

(2) the client is advised of the share that each lawyer is to receive and does not object to the participation of all the lawyers involved; and

(3) the total fee is reasonable.

Fully complying with this rule and documenting the client’s consent to an appropriate allocation of fees and responsibility between counsel, we generously share fees with c0-counsel who bring cases to us. Thus,  attorneys in Georgia and across North America who are preeminent in bankruptcy, real estate, securities, probate or corporate law readily acknowledge when they need to refer a client to a lawyer who specializes in tort law. Similarly, we refer matters outside the scope of practice to experts in those specialties.

We work closely with referring lawyers, who may have as much or as little involvement as they wish. A lawyer who practices in another state or another area of law may net a greater fee than if they had done all the work themselves. But the main thing is that a referring lawyer can know that the client is in good hands.

When associated by attorneys in neighboring states, we have been admitted pro hac vice for individual cases.

If a client has a claim for a catastrophic truck crash anywhere in the Southeast, call us at (404)253-7863.


Ken Shigley is  a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group, and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

Mr. Shigley is 2019 recipient of the Tradition of Excellence from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice and Trial Section. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. 

In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State  Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia.  He also has served as chair of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education in Georgia (2012-13),  State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994). 

A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. Ken is a widower. His two children are married and own their own.

Death by decapitation when big trucks park on the roadside

Rear underride crash test

Death by decapitation due to trailer underride  can  result when tractor trailers park on the roadside.

The kneejerk response of most people seeing pictures of these incidents is to simply blame the dead person. But it’s not that simple. When an innocent passenger is killed or maimed, some portion of fault is normally apportioned to the driver who departed from the traffic lane for whatever reason. But it is necessary to also examine a trucking company’s decision to violate safety standards by parking a big rig on the side of the road.

A lot of people who see these collisions and are uninformed on the safety standards involved assume that it is always 100% the fault of the driver of the car that struck the parked tractor trailer. Thus, it is necessary to thoroughly investigate and, if possible, refute potential defenses. If the driver of the car had a cell phone, it is worth the cost to do a forensic download and rule out driver distraction from a cell phone at the time of the crash. A reliably conducted medical examination or autopsy is needed to rule out alcohol or drug use that may have contributed to cause of the crash.

In over 40 years of law practice, including 28 years representing individuals and families devastated by highway crashes with big commercial trucks, one of the least understood hazards is that of tractor trailers parked on the side of the road.

Just about every time I drive through Georgia late at night, I see unlit tractor trailers parked in the dark inches from the right traffic lane . Too many people even in the trucking industry do not understand how hazardous this can be.

It is foreseeable that cars will occasionally leave the traffic lane. That can happen for any of a number of innocuous reasons that should not be punished by decapitation. A driver may swerve to avoid another vehicle, a deer or a dog, or when distracted by a child or pet inside the vehicle. One may hydroplane and spin off the road when water pools in a low spot in pavement on a highway during heavy rain. (That happened to my wife at a spot on I-20 that was well known to state troopers for frequent hydroplaning.) Because innocuous departure from the traffic lane is common, highways include rumble strips at the end of the road.

The foreseeability of vehicles departing from the traffic lane is why highways built in the United States in recent decades have incorporated road design features to make roadsides forgiving for drivers who makes such mistakes.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recommends construction standards for shoulder and right of way design. This includes clearance of obstructions such as, trees, steep slopes, or abutments which may hinder a motorist from being able to recover from an unintended departure from the roadway. They also recommend guardrails whenever feasible to redirect drifting vehicles back onto the paved portion of the roadway.

The Roadside Design Guide defines a clear zone as the total roadside border area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, available for safe use by errant vehicles. This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope, a non-recoverable slope, and/or a clear run-out area. The desired minimum width is dependent upon traffic volumes and speeds and on the roadside geometry. Simply stated, it is an unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the traveled way that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the traveled way.

According to the Roadside Design Guide by the American Association of Highway Transportation Officials, highway shoulders, a clear zone is

The total roadside border area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, available for safe use by errant vehicles. This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope, a non-recoverable slope, and/or a clear run-out area. The desired minimum width is dependent upon traffic volumes and speeds and on the roadside geometry. Simply stated, it is an unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the traveled way that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the traveled way.

The Clear Zone, is further defined as

An unobstructed, traversable roadside area that allows a driver to stop safely, or regain control of a vehicle that has left the roadway. The width of the clear zone should be based on risk [of immediate danger]. Key factors in assessing risk include traffic volumes, speeds, and slopes. Clear roadsides consider both fixed objects and terrain that may cause vehicles to rollover.

The highway shoulder is not  designed for parking. It is a “clear zone” or “recovery zone,” not a parking area. But every day we see 18-wheelers parked in that “recovery zone” or shoulder, parked overnight and not illuminated.

Personal cars and trucks are doing the same thing, but the hazard they present is less severe. When a trucker parks a large Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) in on the shoulder of a highway in what is designed as a “Clear Zone,” that truck is a large, immovable, rigid barrier blocking the “clear zone.” That creates an eminent hazard to occupants of any vehicle which may depart, for whatever reason, from the travel portion of the roadway.

Tractor trailers parked in the “clear zone” or “recovery zone” create the equivalent of an unforgiving solid wall. This presents a vastly greater danger to people in approaching cars that would another car parked in the same position. When a car veers out of its lane and collides with a stopped car of the same size, there may or may not be injuries, either minor or serious. But when the same car collides with an 80,000 pound tractor trailer, the physics is vastly different.   Semi-trucks are not only larger and heavier than regular vehicles, but their trailers also stand high off the ground. If a car traveling at highway speeds comes into contact with the trailer of an 18-wheeler, the big rig is the perfect height to sheer off the top of the car and kill or perhaps decapitate anyone inside.

Conspicuity of big rigs parked on the roadside, especially in lighting and weather conditions affecting visibilty is a hazard well known in trucking. That is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have strict rules on this. At § 392.22 on Emergency Stops, the regulations require, “whenever a commercial motor vehicle is stopped upon the traveled portion of a highway or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than necessary traffic stops, the driver of the stopped commercial motor vehicle shall immediately activate the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers and continue the flashing until the driver places the warning devices” As soon as possible, and in all cases within 10 minutes, the driver must places three reflective triangles or flares.

Trucking company corporate management can reduce this risk of a deadly crash through management practices that include good trip planning so that drivers can reach safe places for planned stops before they run out of safe driving hours. Companies should manage their fleets to make frequent vehicle inspections and perform appropriate equipment maintenance.

Trucking company management should require drivers not to stop along the roadside in non-emergency situations, and instruct drivers to exit the highway and find a safe place to park when necessary. Truckers multiply this risk when they park large trucks park on the roadside at night without using hazard flashers and warning devices.

If due to mechanical breakdown a truck driver has no choice but to stop on the side of the road, trucking companies should train drivers and dispatchers on things they can do to  reduce the risk of a loss in the event of a breakdown or other roadside emergency. Such actions include:

  • Immediately turn on hazard flashers when slowing and leave them on while stopped.
  • Immediately set out warning devices (reflective triangles or flares) in accordance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations at 49 CFR § 392.22.
  • Keep marker lights on after dark.
  • Avoid parking on curves or on the downside of undulated roads that obscure the approach of oncoming traffic.
  • Park as far off the traveled roadway as safely possible. Remember shoulders can be soft and have a steep drop-off or ditch.
  • When stopped, set parking brakes.
  • Notify employer as soon as possible to arrange roadside assistance.
  • Avoid falling into traffic by using three points of contact exiting /entering the cab or climbing onto the catwalk or trailer.
  • Walk along the side of the vehicle opposite traffic.
  • Watch out for debris or uneven surfaces when outside the vehicle.
  • Use a visible flashlight after dark.
  • Wear reflective clothing (such as a high visibility safety vest) when exiting the vehicle.

Even if a parked semi-truck is illuminated at night, there is a recognized condition known as the “Moth Effect” which may contribute to an unwary driver running into a truck parked on the shoulder. The “Moth Effect” occurs when drivers are attracted to flashing lights or other things along the roadway, especially when fatigued.  The “Moth Effect” is most likely when visibility conditions are reduced at night or in fog or heavy rain which is common in Georgia. When required to stop due to extreme weather conditions, truckers should attempt to get to the next exit in order to avoid blocking the “clear area” on the roadside.

When presented with catastrophic crashes that involve a commercial motor vehicle parked by the side of the road, we investigate deeply and retain appropriate experts. We have to determine why the driver chose that particular spot to pull off and stop.  We normally download electronic control module data and other electronic records from both vehicles. How long had the truck been parked? Was there a dash cam video on either vehicle that could be evidence? Was it an actual emergency or mechanical failure? Was the driver failing to follow safety rules and simply stopped for a “break” on the roadside rather than in a safe place off the road? Did the truck driver have the ability to stop in a safer location?

If a family member is badly injured or killed in a collision with a tractor trailer parked on the roadside, call us at (404) 253-7962 for a consultation to see whether or not there is a viable case.


Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the Tradition of Excellence Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice and Trial Section. He is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), past chair of the State Bar’s Tort & Insurance Practice Section 1994-95), past chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994), past chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section (2015-16), and a member of the board of governors of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (Thomson Reuters West, 2010-2019). His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. He is licensed to practice law in Georgia. Representation of clients in others states, which possible, can be undertaken only in strict compliance with the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules of the other state.

May a law firm hijack a competitor’s name in Google Ad Words?

Recently it came come to my attention that whenever anyone Googled my name in the mobile version of Google, the first thing that up was ads for competitors. A reasonable hypothesis was that they, or some ad agency acting other their behalf, had purchased my name in Google Ad Words®.  After I asked several law firms that had used my name in their Ad Words® advertising to immediately stop, their ads disappeared from searches in my name.

Ads for one other law firm continued to pop up on mobile searches for my name. The senior partner of that firm swore to me that he had not purchased my name in Google Ad Words® and did not use an ad agency that could have done it for them.  I take him at his word. He suggests that the ad placements may be due to a Google broad match algorithm rather than Google Ad Words®. I have asked the company in Silicon Valley that hosts my website to look into that and explore ways to block other firms’ ads from appearing in response to searches for my name.

The only remaining company that appeared to target my name in Google Ad Words® is Fasthelp.com, a website of uncertain provenance but with an Atlanta phone number, which advertises for unidentified lawyers. I will find out who is behind it, and I will take appropriate action.

The practice of buying another lawyer’s name in Google Ad Words® in order to redirect search traffic is both unethical and a violation of federal laws.

In the case of Pensacola Motor Sales v. Eastern Shore Toyota, LLC, 2010 WL 3781552 (N.D. Fla., Pensacola Div, decided Sept. 23, 2010), the court strongly disapproved unauthorized use of a competitor’s name in domain names and “ad words” to divert internet traffic. The court held that a complaint of an auto dealer’s misappropriation of the name of a competitor presented genuine issues of fact for jury determination regarding:

  • False advertising in violation of he Lanham Act, as codified in 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a). To establish a false advertising claim under § 1125(a), a Plaintiff must demonstrate:“(1) the ads of the opposing party were false or misleading, (2) the ads deceived, or had the capacity to deceive, consumers, (3) the deception had a material effect on purchasing decisions, (4) the misrepresented product or service affects interstate commerce, and (5) the movant has been-or is likely to be-injured as a result of the false advertising.” North American Medical Corp. v. Axiom Worldwide, Inc., 522 F.3d 1211, 1224 (11th Cir.2008).

The court held that actual confusion and damages are not required under § 1125(a). Capacity to deceive and likelihood of injury are sufficient. North American Medical Corp. at 1224.

  • Unfair competition, also under the Lanham Act. A showing of actual confusion is not essential to recovery in a claim for unfair competition. Bauer Lamp Co., Inc. v. Shaffer, 941 F.2d 1165, 1171 (11th Cir.1991). All that is required is proof of the likelihood of confusion. Id. at 1172. To determine if there is a likelihood of confusion in a trademark infringement action, the Eleventh Circuit considers seven factors: “(1) type of mark, (2) similarity of mark, (3) similarity of the products the marks represent, (4) similarity of the parties’ retail outlets and customers, (5) similarity of advertising media used, (6) defendant’s intent and (7) actual confusion.” Dieter v. B & H Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc., 880 F.2d 322, 326 (11th Cir.1989).  The court rejected the contention that use of a competitor’s identity in ad words did not constitute misrepresentation or cause confusion.

For lawyers to employ such misleading advertising tactics is also a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Rule 7.1(a) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct states, “A lawyer may advertise through all forms of public media and through written communication not involving personal contact so long as the communication is not false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading.” Rule 8.4(a)(4) provides, “It shall be a violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct for a lawyer to:. . . engage in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

There does not yet appear to be a reported case or formal advisory opinion in Georgia on unethical hijacking of other lawyers’ names for Google Ad Words®. However, the North Carolina Bar has  determined that bidding on a competing lawyer’s name is unethical. A 2010 Formal Ethics Opinion #14 states:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Rule 8.4(c). Dishonest conduct includes conduct that shows a lack of fairness or straightforwardness. See In the Matter of Shorter, 570 A.2d 760, 767-68 (DC App. 1990). The intentional purchase of the recognition associated with one lawyer’s name to direct consumers to a competing lawyer’s website is neither fair nor straightforward. Therefore, it is a violation of Rule 8.4(c) for a lawyer to select another lawyer’s name to be used in his own keyword advertising.

It is probable that some lawyers and law firms have hired internet advertising agencies to manage their Ad Words® campaigns, unaware that their agents were leading them into ethical violations. Those who do employ such agencies should promptly take action to assure that they are not paying for Ad Words® that hijack the names and reputations of competitors. Those who persist in such unethical conduct should be prepared to face the consequences.

Meanwhile, we will explore whether some of this is due to Google broad match and ways to overcome it.


Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia, past chair of the State Bar’s Tort & Insurance Practice Section, past chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute, past chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, and a member of the board of governors of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (Thomson Reuters West, 2010-2018). His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brain, neck, back, spinal cord, amputation and burn injuries. He is licensed to practice law in Georgia. Representation of clients in others states, which possible, can be undertaken only in strict compliance with the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules of the other state.

 

When may a jury award damages for a decedent’s pain and suffering before death?

In handling Georgia wrongful death cases in which the victim had very little conscious survival time, we often have to address the question whether to make a claim for pain and suffering before death.

In Georgia, wrongful death cases may include two separate claims.

First is the wrongful death claim for “full value of the life” which belongs to family members designated by O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2 – spouse, children or parents. Recovery for the “full value of the life” includes both economic and intangible components and is not subject to claim of the decedent’s creditors and medical providers.

Second is a “survival action” authorized by O.C.G.A. § 9-2-41 and brought by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate for pain and suffering, medical expense and funeral expenses. Any recovery under this claim is subject to claims of creditors.

In many of the cases we see, particularly truck crashes, the decedent loses consciousness rather quickly and survival time is short. However, if a credible claim for pain and suffering can be made, it can add substantial value to a jury verdict.

Moreover, the estate’s claim may be a necessary piece of the puzzle in order to make a claim for punitive damages based upon months or years of the corporation’s independent negligence in hiring, training and supervising employees extending far beyond the momentary negligence of an employee, e.g., a truck driver, who should never have been entrusted with an 80,000 pound tractor trailer in the first place.

This is especially important when a corporation admits ordinary negligence on the part of the employee and admits that the employee was in course and scope of employment. Some judges apparently do not  understand or care how often the root cause of a tragic crash lies in management practices that turn a blind eye to safety. Such judges have created precedents exclude evidence of mismanagement leading to the crash in that scenario.

But if there is a claim for punitive damages for the company’s patterns and practices that show conscious disregard for safety, evidence of unsafe management practice may be admissible. Because punitive damages are not recoverable in wrongful death cases in Georgia, the survival action gains greater importance. Thus, the pain and suffering claim that might in other circumstances be superfluous becomes a key element in bringing corporate misconduct to light and obtaining full justice.

  1. Mental pain and suffering in before and during a fatal crash.

In Georgia, a jury may infer consciousness of impending death, and thus mental pain and suffering, from evidence immediately prior to impact or following her injury. Department of Transp. v. Dupree, 256 Ga.App. 668, 570 S.E.2d 1(2002).

During a crash, even if the survival time before death was extremely brief, jurors may reasonably infer that the victim experienced both severe physical pain and fear of impending death in those moments. That alone can be sufficient to support a genuine issue of material fact for jury determination.

In Walker v. Daniels, 200 Ga.App. 150, 156 (3), 407 S.E.2d 70 76 (1991), the defense contended that the decedent could not have had any consciousness between injury and death due to a blunt impact to his neck in the diving area of a university swimming pool.  However, there was evidence from which a jury could have determined that he either was or not conscious when he inhaled water that was the immediate cause of drowning. Thus, the court held, “Under this evidence, questions concerning the decedent’s pain and suffering were for the jury to decide.”

2. Physician’s testimony about presuming pain despite apparent absence of consciousness.

Treating physicians may testify that they treat for pain even when a patient appears unconscious, and are careful talking about a comatose patient because so many patients wake up and report hearing conversations while everyone though they were comatose. Such medical testimony can be crucial in supporting a claim for pain and suffering despite a patient’s unresponsiveness.

The Reference Manual on Scientific Testimony recognizes that “treating physicians are generally permitted to testify” and “treating physicians’ testimony is often given greater weight than testimony from physicians who have not examined the patient.” Reference Manual on Scientific Testimony 449, n. 41(2d Ed.).

“A physician may be asked to testify about the physical condition of a plaintiff, diagnosis, treatment, causes of the plaintiff’s condition, or prognosis.” Id. at 439.  The methodology and data that treating physicians reasonably consider good grounds for opinions or inferences in medical practice are sufficiently reliable to form the basis of a qualified medical expert’s testimony in court. Whether a patient under his direct care experienced pain before her death is quintessentially a matter within the scope of a treating physician’s testimony.

It is well established that the opinion, diagnosis, and medical evidence of treating physicians should be accorded substantial weight unless “good cause” is shown for not doing so.  Treating physicians can generally “express an opinion as to ‘the cause of any medical condition presented in a patient, the diagnosis, the prognosis and the extent of the disability, if any, caused by the injury.”

See, e.g., Cohen v. Lockwood, 2004 WL 763961 (D.Kan. 2004) (unpublished opinion); Zanowic v. Ashcroft, 2002 WL 373229, 52 Fed.R.Serv.3d 702 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (unpublished opinion) at *2(quoting Shapardon v. West Beach Estates, 172 F.R.D. 415, 416 (D.Haw. 1997); Laski v. Bellwood, 132 F.3d 33 (6th Cir.1997)(trial court abused its discretion by not permitting treating physicians to testify about cause of plaintiff’s back pain); Mangla v. Univ. of Rochester, 168 F.R.D. 137, 139 (W.D.N.Y. 1996); Santoro v. Signature Const., Inc., 2002 WL 31059292 (S.D.N.Y., 2002)  (unpublished opinion). See also, Pittman v. ANR Freight Systems, Inc., 2002 WL 2026257 (6th Cir., 2002) (unpublished opinion); McGregor v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 2004 WL 68692 (9th Cir., 2004).

In a case we successfully handled recently, the attending physician who supervised the victim’s care from her arrival in the emergency room until her death gave expert testimony that in the hospital she was moaning, breathing on her own, and that he believed she experienced pain during her hospitalization until the time of death.

We contended that expert medical testimony was sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact for jury determination, and to require denial of summary judgment. The affidavit from Defendants’ specially retained medical expert did no more than set up an opposing argument to present to the jury.

There were no reported Georgia decision directly on point. However, decisions by courts in other jurisdictions with laws consistent with Georgia law are helpful. In Kretek v. Board of Commissioners of Luna County, 2014 WL 11621697 D. New Mexico, decided Feb. 26, 2014), testimony of the treating physician was equivocal about the nature and degree of suffering the patient may have experience while comatose prior to death. Thus, the court denied a motion in limine to exclude the physician’s testimony on this issue.

Thus, if the potential for financial recovery far exceeds any medical liens or creditor claims, it may be worthwhile to raise a claim for pain and suffering even if the decedent’s survival time was brief. Other times, if the potential for recovery is more limited and creditors’ potential claims are substantial, it may not be worth it.


Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia, past chair of the State Bar’s Tort & Insurance Practice Section, past chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute, past chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, and a member of the board of governors of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (Thomson Reuters West, 2010-2018). His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. He is licensed to practice law in Georgia. Representation of clients in others states, which possible, can be undertaken only in strict compliance with the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules of the other state.

 

What is the law in Georgia on negligent entrustment of a commercial motor vehicle?

In catastrophic truck crashes that kill or catastrophically injury innocent people, the root cause of the tragedy is often not the momentary carelessness of a truck driver. Rather, the root cause is very often the systemic mismanagement by a company that puts behind the wheel of an 80,000 bomb a person who never should have been driving it. The driver may be a good guy who because inadequate training or experience, bad driving record, or physical incapacity was not well-fitted for the job. That can result in a claim for negligent entrustment.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Georgia recognized that Georgia law of negligent entrustment follows the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 390, without reservation or exception. Restatement § 390 provides:

One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the use of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know to be likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.

Zaldivar v. Prickett, 297 Ga. 589, 602-03, 774 S.E.2d 688, 697 (2015), et cit. (Majority opinion by Justice Blackwell, dissent by Justice Benham on apportionment issue only).

A 1997 Court of Appeals decision said that the Georgia rule on negligent entrustment is narrower than the Restatement rule, requiring actual rather constructive knowledge. Carolina Cable Contractors, Inc. v. Hattaway, 226 Ga.App. 413, 416 (4), 487 S.E.2d 53 (1997)(Smith, J.) (physical precedent only). However, because that decision is “physical precedent only” it is not binding on lower courts.

Moreover, circumstantial evidence can be used to prove actual knowledge. Carolina Cable, 226 Ga. App. at 416-17.  The direct evidence of degrees of actual knowledge is circumstantial evidence from which jurors may reasonably infer a greater degree of actual knowledge than that to which a trucking company admits.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 CFR § 391.23, requires interstate motor carriers to investigate the driving background of driver applicants. “The investigation may consist of personal interviews, telephone interviews, letters, or any other method for investigating that the carrier deems appropriate.” 49 CFR § 391.23 (c)(2). The minimum required includes requests for information to prior employers and checking state motor vehicle records.

However, that is only the “minimum” required. 49 CFR § 391.23(d). “By the regulations’ own terms, employers may investigate driver employment histories and driving records beyond the minimum standards established by the regulations themselves. The trucking industry’s needs and concerns involving drivers extend to a range of past accidents, incidents, mishaps, occurrences and events well beyond those encompassed by § 390.5.” Cassara v. DAC Services, Inc., 276 F.3d 1210, 1225 (10th Cir., 2002) It is a floor not a ceiling, for checking driver backgrounds. If a motor carrier has actual knowledge of a collision within the previous three years that is not revealed in those records, a duty arises to check the accuracy of the driver applicant’s self-serving description of the incident.

A Plaintiff may get to a jury “by showing that an employer had actual knowledge of numerous and serious violations on its driver’s record, or, at the very least, when the employer has flouted a legal duty to check a record showing such violations.” Mastec North America, Inc. v. Wilson, 325 Ga.App. 863, 755 S.E.2d 257, 259-60 (2014); Western Indus. v. Poole, 280 Ga.App. 378, 380(1), 634 S.E.2d 118 (2006); Smith v. Tommy Roberts Trucking Co., 209 Ga.App. 826, 829–830(3), 435 S.E.2d 54 (1993).

Circumstantial evidence of knowledge of such factors of incompetency is sufficient to create a question of fact for jury determination on the issue of negligent entrustment. It is sufficient to show knowledge on the part of the entruster by presenting facts from which it could reasonably be inferred that the entruster knew of the driver’s poor driving habits or skills. CGL Facility Management, LLC v. Wiley, 328 Ga. App. 727, 732-33 (2), 760 S.E.2d 251 (2014) (allowing the claim to go to the jury because there was a question of fact where the employer could have had knowledge of the driver’s incompetence based on prior incidents); Dougherty Equipment Co., 327 Ga.App. 434, 439(2), 757 S.E.2d 885 (2014); Ed Sherwood Chevrolet v. McAuley, 164 Ga.App. 798, 802(1), 298 S.E.2d 565 (1982). Cf., Gill Plumbing Co., Inc. v. Macon, 187 Ga.App. 481, 483 (2) 370 S.E.2d 657, 659 (1988)(sufficient to show facts from which knowledge of driver’s poor driving habits or skills could be inferred).

Even if any one of these factors standing alone might be enough to create a jury question on negligent entrustment, the overlapping combination of several pertinent factors may be sufficient to authorize jurors to rationally conclude that a trucking company was aware that it was unsafe to entrust an employee to operate a large truck, at least without further training or in some instances evaluation of sleep disorders.

Such claims are extremely fact-sensitive and must be evaluated in light of the specific combination of facts in each case.

If you have questions about a serious injury or wrongful death case in Georgia, contact us at 404-253-7862.


 

Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia, past chair of the State Bar’s Tort & Insurance Practice Section, past chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute, past chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, and a member of the board of governors of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (Thomson Reuters West, 2010-2018). His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brainneckbackspinal cordamputation and burn injuries. He is licensed to practice law in Georgia. Representation of clients in others states, which possible, can be undertaken only in strict compliance with the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules of the other state.