Where can a lawsuit be filed against a trucking company for personal injuries sustained in a tractor-trailer accident? Under Georgia law, the concept of venue determines the county in which a lawsuit can be filed. With respect to trucking companies, plaintiffs may have options available that are more expansive than in certain other types of cases.
The Georgia Constitution provides that in personal injury cases, a defendant must generally be sued in the county of his or her residence, unless the case is against multiple defendants, in which case the lawsuit may be filed in the county of residence of any defendant. In the case of corporations, however, the Constitution gives the legislature the power to determine venue.
At least two provisions of Georgia law may be relevant to a trucking company. First, under OCGA 14-2-510, the Corporation Code establishes venue in, among other places,
- the county of its registered agent, or
- the county where the tort (personal injury) occurred
In cases where venue is based on the second category above, if the defendant does not maintain an office and transact business in that county, the defendant can transfer the case to the county of its principal place of business. If the company does not maintain its principal place of business in Georgia, however, the case cannot be transferred.
The Georgia Motor Carrier Act provides separately, in OCGA 40-1-117, that a personal injury trucking case "may be brought in the county where the cause of action or some part thereof arose." In other words, like the provision of the Corporate Code cited above, the case can be brought wherever the Georgia trucking accident occurred. This provision, however, does not contemplate transfer to the company's principal place of business if the trucking company does not maintain an office in the county where the wreck occurred. Which provision applies?
In Blakemore v. Dirt Movers, Inc. (Case No. A17A1540, January 11, 2018), the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed this question for the first time. The plaintiff filed suit against a trucking company for the wrongful death of her daughter caused by a commercial truck driver in Bibb County, Georgia. The trucking wreck had occurred in Bibb County (which encompasses Macon), but the defendant trucking company had its registered agent and principal place of business in Jeff Davis County. Therefore, the trucking company attempted to transfer the case to its home county as allowed under OCGA 14-2-510. The Georgia Court of Appeals rules that transfer in this case was not appropriate or allowed. Although the Corporate Code would allow for such a transfer, that Code establishes that its venue provisions are not exclusive, and therefore the Georgia General Assembly is free to establish other venues for corporate defendants, including trucking companies, as provided by the Georgia Constitution. It did so in enacting OCGA 40-1-117 of the Georgia Motor Carrier Act, and in doing so it did not include the ability of the trucking company to transfer venue to another county. Therefore, the case was allowed to remain in Bibb County.
Choice of venue can be an important consideration in filing a Georgia personal injury or wrongful death case. Often, there is only one possible venue - the residence of an individual defendant. But in cases involving corporations, such as truck accident cases involving corporations, the plaintiff has a number of options (which may also include the possibility of the case being removed to federal court), and therefore all potential venues should be considered before filing suit.