Thursday, April 12, 2007

Welcome to the Wild Wild West

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Media Release
(404) 376-3495, Rebecca DeHart

In an effort to appease the business community the NRA threw them a bone—the biggest bone they could find. The new substitute to HB 89 not only includes the SB 43—which allows employees to carry firearms onto their workplace parking lots-- but completely eliminates vicarious liability from Georgia law.

“This change in law dwarfs what so-called Tort Reform, SB 3 did in 2005,” said Geoff Pope, an attorney in Atlanta. “Vicarious liability has been a fundamental aspect of Georgia law since we've been a state. Changing such a basic legal concept requires far more thought, consideration, and deliberation. Doing this as a last-minute add-on to the ‘Take Your Gun to Work” bill is the antithesis of thoughtful, responsible government.”

Vicarious liability, in its simplest form, recognizes the relationship between employer and employee. Employers reap the benefits of their employees—their actions, their time and their labor, not to mention the profits from their work. In exchange, the employer is responsible for their employee and their actions when that employee acts negligently on the job. If the employee harms a third party, that third party has the right to pursue justice through not just the employee—but the employer as well. If a FedEx truck runs over a child, FedEx can be held responsible. If a drunk airline pilot falls asleep and crashes a plane, that airline is also responsible. If a construction crew skimps on safety and builds a deck that later collapses when people stand on it, the construction company is also responsible.

“Eliminating vicarious liability separates the employees from the business or corporation. Employees will be listing in the wind without any protection from the business for whom they made a profit,” said Chan Caudell, an attorney in Cornelia. “Over two hundred years of responsibility and accountability will be thrown in the trashcan.”

Beyond the cases above, eliminating vicarious liability would also eliminate business to business accountability. Business A has millions of dollars in merchandise that needs to be shipped in a truck to its new headquarters. On the road, another corporation’s truck hits Business A. The driver was negligent and clearly at fault. The merchandise is ruined. Business A is out millions of dollars—and Business B, although negligent, would no longer be held responsible.

“Eliminating vicarious liability punishes Georgia’s workers. Workers will sweat through their workdays knowing that their employer legally will hang them out to dry if something were to go amiss,” said Robin Frazer Clark, President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. “Business will no longer be accountable to other businesses. Employers will stop buying insurance coverage for their employees because it will no longer be necessary and the state of Georgia will become the Wild, Wild West.”

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Georgians may pay premiums on insurance coverage they never see

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Media Release
(404) 376-3495, Rebecca DeHart

Georgians pay premiums on coverage they may never see
Georgians will actually get what they pay for with the passage of SB 276

Atlanta-- Insurance companies in Georgia collect premiums on Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM) Coverage and may never pay it out—even if you are in a catastrophic accident. In a year that the Insurance Companies are raking in record profits (“Insurers’ profits skyrocket”, AJC, 3-27-2007) consumers continue to pay for elective UM Coverage (UM is not required by law), thinking that if they were a victim in an accident they may need to access that money, and often, they cannot.

Lauren Anderson, a 23-year old in Augusta found out about this the hard way. She was hit by a drunk driver—who had 2 prior DUIs. Her injuries were catastrophic—with damages over $200,000. She lost her spleen, she is permanently disfigured, and continues to suffer with a host of other medical problems caused by the accident.

The driver had a $100,000 policy. Lauren had a $100,000 UM Policy that she had chosen to purchase with her regular coverage. Lauren was able to collect the $100,000 on the driver’s policy, but because of current law, Lauren could not access her UM policy leaving her with tens of thousands of bills unpaid and medical conditions she will be dealing with for the rest of her life.
What Lauren didn’t know was that UM Coverage can only be used if the motorist is completely uninsured or if the coverage they purchased is more than the at-fault driver’s coverage. Had Lauren had a UM policy for $150,000—she would only have been able to use $50,000.

Lauren thought she was electing to purchase UM Insurance—and paying monthly premiums on that insurance—just in case something happened to her. She thought she would get what she was paying for. Now this young woman hit by a drunk driver is incredibly in debt. SB 276 would change this scenario.

Under the proposed law, SB 276 authored by Senator Cecil Staton, you would be able to access your UM Coverage as it would allow you to stack your coverage on top of the at-fault driver’s to the extent of your damages. SB 276 ensures that Georgians will get what they pay for. Twenty-three other states, including our neighbors Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina have similar measures that allow consumers to actually get what they pay for.

“Sadly most people don’t know that they can’t access this coverage until they are in a bad wreck,” said Chan Caudell an attorney in Cornelia. “Often I get calls from people who are injured, missing work, and don’t know how to cover their bills and feed their families. They thought the insurance they had chosen to purchase would help them. Unfortunately, I have to tell them it won’t. SB 276 would change that.”

Not surprisingly, the big insurance companies oppose SB 276, they say that it would increase premiums for UM Coverage. The industry’s own numbers show that SB 276 would increase the premium for $25k in UM Coverage no more than $3.70 a month. And UM coverage is NOT mandatory under GA law, so no one will be forced to pay higher premiums under SB 276.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has just recently come out against the bill—citing different numbers every time. He said that SB 276 would have minimal benefits (Morris News Service, 4-11-2007). To Lauren Anderson those benefits would have been great.

Georgians deserve to get what they have paid for. SB 276 is good for consumers.

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