On September 19, 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Cobb County State Court in Callaway v. Quinn, reinstating the injured plaintiff's claims against the defendant and requiring the trial court to further consider whether it should allow the plaintiff to add a “John Doe” defendant for the purpose of pursuing uninsured motorist coverage. Atlanta personal injury lawyer John Hadden, who appears frequently before the Georgia Court of Appeals and Georgia Supreme Court, served as lead counsel on the appeal.
The case arose out of a car accident in which the driver causing the accident did not stop. After the vehicle fled the scene, it was ultimately located, and its owner was contacted by law enforcement. The owner denied driving the vehicle at the time of the wreck. After the victim filed her lawsuit against the defendant seeking compensation for the personal injuries she suffered in the wreck, the defendant claimed that an individual who had been living with him around the time of the wreck might have actually been driving, but was unable to give any information, including contact or location information, about that person, besides his name. The victim then attempted to add a “John Doe” driver to the lawsuit for the purpose of seeking uninsured motorist coverage.
The Cobb County trial court denied the motion to add the “John Doe” defendant, finding that the motion was filed too late because the statute of limitation had expired. The Georgia Court of Appeals vacated this ruling, finding that the expiration of the statute of limitation was not sufficient to deny the plaintiff the right to add the party, and that the trial court was required to determine that there was some prejudice to the new party (in reality, the plaintiff's own uninsured motorist carrier, which had already been added to the case).
The trial court also granted summary judgment to the defendant who denied driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, finding that the victim's circumstantial evidence was insufficient to refute the purported driver's denial of having driven the vehicle. The Court of Appeals reversed this ruling, reinstating the plaintiff's claims. It held that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to allow a jury to determine whether or not it believed the defendant's testimony that someone else was driving the car. The decision relied, in large part, upon the case of Patterson v. Kevon, LLC, a Georgia Supreme Court decision from August 20, 2018, that similarly reversed a grant of summary judgment to a defendant. That case involved food poisoning, and was a major development in Georgia law with respect to the value of circumstantial evidence. John Hadden submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association in the Patterson case.
Callaway v. Quinn is Georgia Court of Appeals Case No. A18A0866. It is available on the Court of Appeals web site.