Motorcyclists suffer injury and death in a Fulton County accident

Nov 10, 2014

The dangers faced by motorcyclists in Atlanta are illustrated by the recent news that a multiple vehicle accident in Fulton County claimed the life of one motorcycle rider and injured another.The two motorcycle riders were stopped at a red light when a Penske truck struck them from therear.

One motorcyclist was knocked to the ground. The extent of his injuries is unknown, but they are not described as life threatening. The other rider, a 38-year-old man, died after being dragged beneath the truck. The truck driver, who also collided with a car that was traveling through the intersection, was uninjured. He has been charged with homicide by vehicle.

There was clearly nothing the motorcyclists could have done to avoid the accident. The sole cause for this tragic incident appears to be the carelessness of the truck driver. In addition to the criminal charges he faces, his negligence will expose him, possibly his employer and his insurance company to claims for compensation.

Wrongful death in Georgia

Georgia law allows certain relatives of a deceased victim to recover the full value of a deceased person’s life when death results from negligence, malpractice or a defective product. In this tragic case, if the motorcyclist was married, his wife will be entitled to bring that claim. If he is not married, but has children, they will have the right to seek damages for his wrongful death. And, if there is no wife or children his parents can file the claim. If the motorcyclist had both a wife and children, they are each entitled a share, depending on the number of children, of any damages the wife recovers, subject to the wife’s right to keep one-third of the recovery.

The full value of a life is never easy to measure. It includes the amount of money that the deceased would have earned if he had lived a natural lifespan. It also includes intangible factors that are left to a jury’s determination. Georgia law defines value from the perspective of the deceased person. No amount of money can truly reflect that value, but Georgia juries recognize that people place great value on their own lives. As a Georgia motorcycle accident attorney, I know how to present these issues to juries so that they will be fully appreciated. The question is not how much the decedent is missed by his surviving family; instead, the question is how much the decedent can be shown to have missed the life that was taken away from him. These damages are measured from the decedent’s point of view. That is why we, as experienced motorcycle injury lawyers, begin gathering information about the quality of the life and the activities, hopes, and dreams that were taken away as soon as we are retained.

In addition to recovery for the full value of the life of the deceased, Georgia law also allows recovery for any pre-death pain and suffering that was endured. In many cases, the proceeds of this recovery go to the same people as the wrongful death recovery. But, as the money for pre-death pain and suffering passes through the estate of the decedent, if there is a will that can materially change the direction of where the money ends up. In addition to pain and suffering damages, this element of damages also includes the claims for medical and funeral expenses and sometimes lost wages, if there was a period of time between the injury and death.

The motorcyclist who survived will also have a claim for his medical expenses, pain and suffering, and any disability or loss of earnings that might result from the accident.

Insurance Coverage

An unknown factor, however, is the amount of insurance coverage or other money available from the truck driver and possibly his insurer if he was working at the time of the incident. Many commercial trucks carry substantial insurance. But, given the damage large trucks are capable of causing, the insurance coverage is often inadequate. As a result, as Georgia personal injury lawyers, we recommend that everyone, not just motorcyclists, carry as much uninsured coverage as they can purchase. I often wonder why people carry large liability insurance policies and no, or minimal, uninsured motorists coverage. Why would they insure a stranger for more money than they would insure themselves?

A Sad Case

This event reminds me of a case I handled not very long ago. I was retained by the widow of a motorcyclist who was killed when a lady turned left into his path at a traffic light. The motorcyclist was a brilliant engineer who had provided expert testimony that helped many of my clients recover against product manufacturers in product liability cases. Given that this man had worked for lawyers all over the country, I was honored that he had instructed his family to hire me if anything ever happened to him. We recovered all the money we could from the other driver and all the money that the engineer had available from his own insurance. Sadly, that money was not close to the economic loss suffered by his wife who lost not only the love of her life but her only means of support. She herself was disabled. My friend the engineer will never get to see his boys get married or know the joy of grandchildren. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and get him back. He was a good friend, a great engineer, and a caring husband and father.

But the part of this story that leaves me angry is that the lady who caused this wreck had the worst lawyer I have ever encountered. My client, the widow, was an Orthodox Jew. She really needed this lady to say I’m sorry. Because until the lady said she was sorry, forgiveness was impossible. And while my widow client was certainly sad at the loss of her husband, she did not want to be angry with the lady who killed him for the rest of her life. She wanted to forgive her. But, the lady had to express sorrow first. That is how my client was raised. It wasn’t much to ask. We didn’t want the lady to say she was at fault. I had already proved that. We just needed her to extend a little human kindness by saying I’m sorry. Her lawyer told me that her insurance company told him she shouldn’t say she was sorry. So she didn’t. At any rate, she was prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter; perhaps the same fate that awaits the Penske truck driver. At her sentencing hearing the victim advocate asked my client if she wanted to address the judge before the driver was sentenced. Her fate was either a fine or jail time and a fine. My client’s plea to the Court was heart wrenching. She just wanted to hear the lady say she was sorry. The lady looked at her lawyer, the pawn of the insurance company, for advice. Nothing. So she was taken to jail right then and there. Afterwards, I found myself on the elevator with her lawyer. I looked at him and said: Tonight, when you get in your bed at home, I want you to think about your client getting in bed in her prison cell. I want you to think about how she is away from her family, and in prison, entirely because you didn’t do your job. I want you to think about how your legal malpractice caused by putting the interests of an insurance company, which had already paid its limits, above those of your client put your client in jail. I’m still angry about it. The lady who turned into the path of my client’s husband’s motorcycle didn’t mean to kill him. It was certainly a tragedy for my client. But had her lawyer not been the pawn of an insurance company, it would not have been quite as much of a tragedy for her.