Legal News & Updates

Getting Involved in the Legal Profession in Georgia

Our past few blog posts have focused on legal topics and advice, but the profession extends well-beyond the courtroom. Professional engagement is very important to us. I am the editor for the Litigation Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. A younger colleague of ours wrote a very engaging article for our newsletter. We wanted to share it with you on our blog too!  (It’s also hard to believe where the times goes because I’ve now been in practice for over a decade.) In any event, enjoy……

Professional Development as a Young Attorney

Career trajectory is a constant thought for young professionals entering the legal field.   One way to combat those perpetual thoughts of wondering where you will be in the next couple of years is to start with the end goal in mind. Consider the legacy you would like to leave behind when you decide to retire the suit jacket for flip-flops and sand castles.   A simple question to ask yourself is whether you would like to be remembered as the lawyer that passed the bar and no one ever heard of again, or one that showed their zest to give back through getting involved and staying involved throughout the legal community.

We all know how important it is to be responsible for your career after graduating law school and passing the bar.  However, that involves more than landing a job and getting settled in.  While it is important to find employment and gain as many valuable skills as possible, it is equally important to involve yourself in activities outside of work that align with your interest.  As young professionals, we tend to focus our attention heavily on becoming great lawyers. We make a great effort to be the first ones to arrive at work and the last ones to leave.  Newly admitted attorneys and recent graduates must also understand the value and importance of involvement outside of your job.

As a young professional, getting involved can be somewhat frightening.  You may feel as though your lack of experience somehow deems you unqualified. There may be confusion about who to ask or where to go, but I can assure you that there’s an organization or committee suitable to your interest.  Typically, an organization’s website will list their upcoming events and board member’s contact information. I challenge anyone looking to become involved to attend at least one event per month before settling on not becoming involved at all. The last event I attended was for informational purposes only, however, I was unexpectedly invited to become a member of the executive committee.  Things manage to happen when you put yourself in the right place at the right time.

Becoming involved, as a young professional, could mean a number of things depending upon whom you are speaking with.  Your association does not have to be limited to legal organizations. It may involve becoming a committee member on a local school board, fine art society or even grass roots organizations in your community. It could be as simple as reaching out to individuals on professional social sites to meet for coffee or attending local or state bar events.

Also, there are many organizations and bar associations that are involved in the efforts to improve diversity and equality in the legal field that may be of interest to new lawyers.   There are many organizations that offer free training and webinars to lawyers that are free of charge.

Another benefit of getting involved as a new lawyer is the ability to connect with people that are further along in their careers than you or practicing in an area of law that may align with your career goals.  It is a great pleasure to speak with senior attorneys and mid to junior level attorneys that can warn of the pitfalls and how to avoid making certain mistakes.  Whether you are interested in finding a mentor, attending a happy hour, or listening to a panel discussion, I can assure you that there is an organization awaiting you with open arms.  

More importantly, the best part of getting involved as a young lawyer is that you might have the opportunity to help someone in need of your services.  It has been a great pleasure of mine to volunteer with organizations that provide legal services to the underprivileged to help them navigate the legal system. Also, the Georgia bar urges all lawyers to provide at least 50 hours annually of pro bonowork to low income Georgians.  I believe that there is no better way to complete your hours than by dedicating your time and service to an organization that is committed to giving back to those in need.

Finally, my hope is that all of my fellow young professionals will join at least one local or state bar organization and become an active member. Attend events and rest assured that any organization or association’s most valuable assets are its members.  It is through you that all things are possible!

As always, please consider us a resource and friend whether you a young professional, attorney, or just have a question about the law here in Georgia. We’re happy to help! My contact is kevin@patricktriallaw.com or (404) 566-8964.

Three Tips After an Automobile Accident

Over the years, we have developed four tips to help you and your loved ones after a car accident in Georgia. We know that there is a lot going through your mind right after an accident in Georgia. It’s scary! The police are arriving at the scene. The paramedics are coming too. Then, shortly after the accident, there are the seemingly endless calls from the insurance companies asking you for statements and oftentimes making you feel like you did something to cause the automobile accident, but when in reality you did absolutely nothing wrong. The truth: You need to take steps to protect yourself after an accident. These five steps will help guide you along the way after a car accident:

STEP ONE: CALL FOR EMERGENCY HELP AND GET AN ACCIDENT REPORT

Please call 911! We all know that the health and safety of everyone involved in the accident is far and away the most important thing after an automobile accident. It’s easy sometimes to feel guilty for calling for emergency help, especially if the at-fault driver in the accident, tells you that they accept responsibility and will pay for the damages to your vehicle. Far too often though, we have seen the situation play out where you leave the scene without calling the police and paramedics. The person that caused the accident then decides to change his or her story and then claim, “It wan’t my fault.” Without the accident report, the case already become much more difficult, i.e. your word against the other person’s story. The insurance companies will then use it to your disadvantage and may then try to reduce the offer in your case or perhaps even not make any offer to compensate you at all after the accident. We promise that by calling for emergency help you are doing the right thing after the car crash.

STEP TWO: TAKE PICTURES OF THE AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT

These days, a cell phone is a useful tool for taking photos of the damage to all the vehicles and the car accident scene. Many times the insurance company and an adjuster will try to downplay the severity of the car accident, but the pictures are worth a million words. They will show the damage and impact from the collision. Most of us know to take pictures of the vehicles themselves, but there are other very important pictures. Look for skid-marks! Skid marks are crucial, especially in tractor -trailer cases, because they can be used to determine the precise speed of the vehicle or truck that collided with you. If there’s not skid-marks, then the other driver may have been really distracted right before the accident. We have encountered situations where the other driver was texting,  eating, or even sleeping just before hitting a car. Another though: Make sure you snap a picture of the license plate of any people that arrived on the scene because it’s a good way to track them down after the accident, especially if you forget their names or write down the wrong phone number in the moment. Stories change, but the facts don’t.

STEP THREE: UNDERSTAND INSURANCE INFORMATION

While you probably know that Georgia law requires all drivers to maintain automobile accident liability insurance, there is a very scary truth to it: Other drivers only have to carry the minimum limits of $25,000. This amount of insurance for a car accident may seem like a lot of money at first glance, but in reality, it’s pretty small. Think about this — A hospital stay alone or just one surgery can exceed this amount. So please make sure not only get the other driver’s insurance card and write down the name of the insurance company and policy number, but also definitely contact your insurance company because you need to know about your insurance. You should make sure you have UM insurance, which stands for “uninsured motorist” or “underinsured motorist,” to protect you and your family in this type of situation. A quick side note: Make sure your UM coverage is “add-on.” We will talk more about it in another post soon! Anyway, you (or your lawyer) do need to let you insurance  company know about the accident right away; otherwise, your insurance company may not honor you insurance policy with them after an accident. Whatever you do, don’t give a recorded statement to the other insurance company. It’s a trap! Georgia law does not require one despite what the insurance company may try to tell you.

Of course, you should also get professional help! Feel free to give us a call if you ever have any questions about your automobile accident in Georgia. We have handled these types of cases throughout the state whether in Atlanta, Athens, Columbus, Macon, Rome, and Savannah. You can always reach us at (404) 566-5880 or kevin@patricktriallaw.com.

Unique Aspects of Wrongful Death Cases in Georgia

Wrongful death cases in Georgia are unique in many respects. Unlike some personal injury cases, there are actually two separate and distinct claims for wrongful death. Another aspect to these claims is the ‘hierarchy of people,’ such as a spouse or a child, that are permitted to bring a claim. Damages are recoverable by both the estate of the deceased person and the wrongful death claim itself. Notably, the full value of a person’s life is measured from the perspective of the deceased person, as opposed the the perspective of that person’s family and friends.

TWO TYPES OF WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS

While it’s understood that a wrongful death case stems from the loss of a loved one, many people are unfamiliar with the underlying legal claims. There are actually two different claims. The first claim is a traditional wrongful death action, and the second is a separate and distinct claim brought by the estate of the deceased person.

  • Wrongful Death Claim: Georgia law allows for the recovery of the full value of the life of the deceased person. The spouse of the deceased person will usually bring this claim. If the spouse is unable to bring a claim, then the “next of kin,” such as the sons and daughters, will be responsible for bringing the case.
  • Estate Claim: Unlike a wrongful death claim, an estate claim is filed by the estate. This claim is aimed at measuring the value of the deceased person’s life, but rather it is brought to recover the expenses of the estate, like burial and funeral costs, as well as any pain and suffering by the deceased person.

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The statute of limitations means the time allowed to bring a case before it is barred by Georgia law. In Georgia there is typically a two year statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim. Depending on certain facts and circumstances, this period may be longer or shorter for a case. The statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the negligent act. For example, a loved one may have been in a serious tractor-trailer accident and been hospitalized for several weeks before ultimately losing his or her life. The statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the negligent act, i.e. the accident, as opposed to the time the person passed away. This situation often presents itself when a person survives for many months or perhaps even years after the accident so the key is obtaining legal counsel right away to ensure the at-fault party will be held accountable under the law.

A HIERARCHY OF PEOPLE

Georgia law basically has established a hierarchy of relatives who are permitted to bring a wrongful death case. The purpose of this system is avoiding multiple family members brining identical claims. The order is rather intuitive, as follows:

  • Spouse: The spouse is the first person with a right to bring a wrongful death claim. If the deceased person had a spouse and children, then that the spouse is legally required to bring a claim on his or her own behalf and also on behalf of any children.
  • Children: If the deceased person did not have a spouse, then the children are vested with the wrongful death claim, and they have a right to file suit. They would then split the award evenly amongst themselves.
  • Parent: If the deceased person did not have a spouse or children, then any surviving parent would be the proper person to bring the wrongful death claim.
  • Estate: If deceased person does not have any family, then that person’s estate will also have the right to bring the wrongful death claim. The recovery would then be divided up based on the Georgia probate rules.

DAMAGES FOR THE WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM

As a general framework, the damages for this part of the claim again are the “full value” of the life of the deceased person measured from his or her own perspective. The factors are both economic and non-economic. The economic factors include the amount of lost wages assuming the person was working at the time of his or her death. To calculate this amount, it is important to consider the deceased person’s salary, job benefits, like a 401(k) and bonuses. Whereas, the non-economic factors include the intangible value of missing his or her children, a lifetime with his or her spouse along with the enjoyments of daily life. Establishing a concrete monetary figure is a difficult process because compensation can never truly heal a family, but there are tools such as a life-expectancy table to understand the likely amount of time lost as a result of an untimely death.

DAMAGES FOR THE ESTATE CLAIM

As a threshold matter, an estate needs to be set up for the deceased person. If the deceased person left with a will, then there will most likely be a representative for the estate. If, however, the person did not have a will, which is called intestate, then there are a set of laws in Georgia to determine the representative. The representative will have the authority to hire an attorney, dictate the course of the case, and ultimately agree to a settlement.

While it is relatively easy to calculate some parts of the estate claim, such a funeral costs and medical expenses, the more challenging part is determining whether or not there was pain and suffering for the deceased person. If the person immediately lost his or her life, then there may not be a claim. Interestingly though, Georgia law does allow recovery for even a few seconds of conscious pain. If the person lived for a period of time, then there will be a claim for pain and suffering for the estate. The decision is left to the “enlightened wisdom of a fair and impartial jury.” This standard is obviously a bit ambiguous so it is crucial to have an attorney, doctor(s), and other experts that will make a clear presentation to the jury about the scope of the pain and suffering for the deceased person.

If you have lost a loved one because of the negligence of another person or company, then please contact us right away for your free consultation. We understand that these are truly challenging times for you and your family members and will treat you with the utmost of compassion and respect. At the same time, we will make sure to gather all of the critical information to advance your case to ensure the justice your lost loved one deserves. Kevin can be reached at kevin@patricktriallaw.com or (404) 566-5880.