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In the Elder case recently decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the sufficiency of an injured person’s evidence to actually get to a jury in a case involving more than one accident. The problem that the Court addressed was whether the plaintiff had produced sufficient evidence that the accident after the initial impact actually caused any of the injuries the injured person suffered.

In the absence of clear evidence indicating which of the collisions caused, or was more likely to have caused, the injuries to Tobias or Watkins, we are guided by this Court’s earlier decision in Berry v. Hamilton, 246 Ga.App. 608, 541 S.E.2d 428 (2000). In Berry, a motorcyclist fell off her motorcycle on I–285 and then was run over by Hamilton, who stopped and called 911. After police arrived but before they could stop traffic, they saw two other unknown drivers run over the motorcyclist, who was dead at the scene. Id. at 608, 541 S.E.2d 428. Doctors could not pinpoint which of multiple life-threatening injuries had killed her, or when. Thus, the doctor could not determine whether the motorcyclist had died when she fell off her motorcycle or when she was later run over by several automobiles. Id. at 609–10, 541 S.E.2d 428. In a subsequent suit filed by the victim’s survivors, this Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Hamilton, holding that there was no evidence that he had proximately caused her death, as it was also possible that she could have died in the initial fall from the motorcycle. Id. at 610, 541 S.E.2d 428. The Court held that “[w]hen a party is relying on inferences to prove a point, not only must those inferences tend in some proximate degree to establish the conclusion sought, but must also render less probable all inconsistent conclusions.” (Citation omitted.) Id. Thus, “[t]he circumstantial evidence must be sufficient to establish a reasonable inference that [the defendant] caused [the injuries]. If it raises only a mere conjecture as to how [the injuries occurred], there can be no recovery.” Id.

Here, the evidence shows only that the Second Collision presented an “opportunity” for injury, as the Plaintiffs argued below, but the evidence also presents the possibility that Watkins and Tobias suffered their injuries in the First Collision. Because the circumstantial evidence of record leaves the jury to conjecture how and when the injuries to Watkins and Tobias occurred, the trial court erred in denying Elder’s motion for summary judgment as to their claims. See Redmon, 335 Ga.App. at 166–67 (1), 779 S.E.2d 778; Dawkins v. Doe, 263 Ga.App. 737, 740, 589 S.E.2d 303 (2003); Berry, 246 Ga.App. at 610, 541 S.E.2d 428.

Elder v. Hayes, No. A16A0168, 2016 WL 3675718, at *5 (Ga. Ct. App. July 8, 2016).

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About the Author

Ben Sessions, Attorney at Sessions Law Group
Ben Sessions

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