As featured in the article “Injured motorist wins $1.29M after judge OKs suit against insurer” by The Daily Report’s Ben Smith:

A DeKalb county jury has awarded an injured motorist $1.29 million from the insurance company for an out-of-state trucking company.

A key part of the case occurred when Judge Wayne Purdom of DeKalb County State Court rejected arguments by Aequicap Insurance Co. that Georgia law bars an accident victim from suing the isnurer driectly. Purdom’s ruling could help clarify the law around such issues, said the motorist’s attorney, Lloyd W. Hoffspiegel.

Hoffspiegel recounted details of Purdom’s ruling, which, the attorney said, was issued verbally from the bench before the trial started.

Stephen J. Caswell of Lane, O’Brien & Caswell, who represents Aequicap, the truck driver, and the South Carolina company he worked for, GWT Trucking, said his clients were ‘considering their options this point.’

‘My clients were surprised and very much disappointed with the jury’s verdict,’ he said on a voice mail message.

According to court records, the accident occured on the evening of Aug. 24, 2007. Hoffspiegel’s client, Tommie L. Johnson, was driving north-bound on Interstate 285 in eastern DeKalb County when he was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer switching lanes. The driver of the truck was Sammy L. Jamison of South Carolina.

Johnson suffered a torn rotator cuff injury from the accident. He underwent to surgeries to correct the problem, but they failed. As a result, Johnson cannot lift his left arm, Hoffspiegel said.

Prior to the accident, Johnson earned $85,000 a year working as a detention officer at DeKalb County Youth Detention Center and as a school safety officer at McNair High School. But because of the accident, Johnson could not go back to work, Hoffspiegel said.

Hoffspiegel said that prior to the verdict, the defendants offered to settle the case for $125,000.

Hoffspiegel added that Georgia law generally protects liability insurers from being included in the lawsuits against those they insure becasue including them as defendants can be highly prejudicial to a jury.

But the Legislature created an exception for Georgia trucking companies. The “Direct Action Statute,” as it is called, O.C.G.A 46-7-12, requires in-state trucking companies to file certificates of insurance with the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Public Service Commision.

The law also allows for insurance carriers to be held directly liable for the accidents caused by the truck drivers they insure.

The law was enacted to close a loophole that could absolve companies that had not filed with the state of Georgia.

In a motion to drop Aequicap from the suit, Caswell argued that the law did not require GWTor the insurer to register with the state of Georgia, nor could Aequicap be held liable.

Caswell pointed to a prior passage in the same code section that states ‘the provisions of this title relating to the carriers engaged in the transportation of passengers or goods with this state shall not apply to carriers engaged in interstate commerce.’

Casewell cited several cases to bolster his argument: Jackson v. Sluder, 256 Ga. App. 812;Caudill v. Strickland, 230 Ga. App. 644; National Indemnity Co. v. Tatum, 193 Ga. App. 698; andGlenn McClendon Trucking Co. v. Williams, 183 Ga. App. 508.

Hoffspiegel said Purdom dismissed the motion, stating that the direction action statute does not apply to defendants.

The case is Johnson v. Jamison, No. 09A02527-3.

This article was featured on the Monday, April 26, 2010 edition of The Daily Report.