Georgia Court of Appeals blocks remedy for motorist injured due to ladders, mattresses, etc in freeway
If you have spent much time driving on the metro Atlanta expressways you have probably seen ladders and mattresses that had fallen from pickup trucks and car roofs. Occasionally there are cases of catastrophic injury or death caused when people traveling at expressway speeds encounter such random obstacles.
Of course it is seldom if ever possible to identify the vehicle from which a ladder or mattress fell unless there is some unique identifying marking through which the owner can be traced.
One might naturally think that the remedy for a person badly injured due to the dropped ladder or mattress creating havoc on the freeway would be through one’s own Uninsured Motorist insurance coverage. However, the Georgia Court of Appeals says no.
In Hohman v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Auto. Ins. Co., 283 Ga.App. 430, 641 S.E.2d 650 (2007), the injured person crashed when he swerved to avoid contact with another vehicle which was swerving around a ladder in the road. State Farm, as the uninsured motorist insurance carrier, admitted that there was an eyewitness to corroborate that there was a ladder in the road that led to the chain reaction. However, the Court of Appeals went along with State Farm’s position that a UM claim could be made only if there was an eyewitness to corroborate " it was entitled to summary judgment on Hohman’s claim because no eyewitness can corroborate her contention that the John Doe defendant was negligent in failing to properly secure a ladder to his vehicle and in leaving the ladder in the roadway since no witness, including Hohman, saw a vehicle carrying a ladder or saw a ladder fall onto the highway from a vehicle."
Of course the person who crashes because of the ladder in the road is no position to chase down witnesses on the expressway who have dodged the ladder and sped on. In the real world, it is highly unlikely that a ladder or mattress would wind up in the expressway unless it were negligently loaded, and equally unlikely that a witness who saw the ladder fall from a vehicle would see a wreck in the rear view mirror, stop, back up on the expressway, and give his name to the police who arrive later.
Under the Georgia Court of Appeals decision, the family of a person killed in a crash caused by the ladder dropped in the expressway by some bum who kept going, and who has paid premiums over the years for uninsured motorist coverage, essentially has no opportunity to use that coverage.
The Georgia Court of Appeals is, I understand, the busiest state appellate court in the United States in terms of cases per judge. In such an overworked and understaffed appellate court, sometimes decisions are cranked out that just don’t make a lot of sense.
I suppose the only remedy in these cases would be if the police could secure the ladder or mattress, conduct a forensic investigation to trace the fallen object, and identify the vehicle from which it fell. That is extremely unlikely unless there is a death and the prospect of a vehicular homicide prosecution.
Ken Shigley is a seasoned trial lawyer practicing statewide in Georgia, A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he has been listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine) and among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine). He is currently Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia. He is available for free consultations about serious injury and wrongful death caes, either online or by toll-free call to (877) 778-7944