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In a series of end-of-term decisions by the Supreme Court, one decision has quietly made it harder for plaintiffs from diverse states to sue an out-of-state defendant in a class action lawsuit. The case, titled Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, alters the rules governing the procedures whereby a particular state’s courts can exercise jurisdiction over litigants who do not live in that state. Before we discuss the case at issue, we’ll first give a general overview of how courts decide which cases they can hear.

A Primer on Personal Jurisdiction

In International Shoe v. Washington, the Supreme Court held that a particular state court (known as the “forum state”) could exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants if the defendant had “minimum contacts” with the state. In subsequent cases, the court found that there are two ways of finding “minimum contacts.” The first is “general jurisdiction,” which requires the defendant to have “systematic and continuous contacts” with the forum state such that the defendant is at “home” in the state. If the defendant’s actions meet this test, then he or she can be sued for any actions in the state. The second is “specific jurisdiction,” which allows lawsuits against an out-of-state defendant only if the suit “arises out of or relates to the defendant’s contact with the forum” state.

A “dram shop” is the legal term for a bar or any other establishment that sells alcohol to members of the public. As a matter of public policy, many states impose strict liability on establishments that serve alcohol to individuals who cause injuries or death as a result of their intoxication. These laws vary from state to state—some apply to all intoxicated persons, while others apply only to minors. Some limit liability to cases involving intentional conduct on the part of the bartender, while others require only negligent conduct.

Below, we’ll take a look at Georgia’s dram shop law and what you need to prove to establish a claim under it.

Georgia’s Dram Shop Law

No one is ever truly prepared for a car accident—you’re simply driving along, maybe listening to your favorite song, and out of nowhere your life changes in an instant. Although every accident is different, there are some important steps you need to take after you’ve been involved in one to make sure that the police and insurance companies have all of the information they need to make a determination of fault and compensate the victims. If an accident is particularly serious, you may even need to hire an attorney.

Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take immediately after an accident and when you might want to consider hiring an attorney.

What to Do After a Car Accident

Distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents in the United States. In fact, according to a study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 80% of auto accidents are caused by some kind of distraction occurring within three seconds of the accident. Because of the rapid rise of texting as most people’s primary form of communication in recent years, it has become a serious factor in distracted driving accidents.

By the Numbers

Roughly a third of drivers between the ages of 18 and 64 report reading or writing text messages while they are driving. This can cause serious problems—the average length of time a driver can safely glance away from the road is two seconds; however, most drivers who are texting take their eyes off of the road for an average of 5 seconds. This makes drivers who are texting 400% more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers who are not.  All in all, there were a total of of 341,000 motor vehicle crashes involving texting in 2013, resulting in about 8 deaths per day. The age group that is most likely to send a text or an email while driving is 21-24.

Distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents in the United States. According to a study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 80% of auto accidents are caused by some kind of distraction occurring within three seconds of the accident. Because of the rapid rise of texting as most people’s primary form of communication in recent years, it has become a serious factor in distracted driving accidents.

By the Numbers

Roughly a third of drivers between the ages of 18 and 64 report reading or writing text messages while they are driving. This can cause serious problems—the average length of time a driver can safely glance away from the road is two seconds; however, most drivers who are texting take their eyes off of the road for an average of 5 seconds. This makes drivers who are texting 400% more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers who are not.  All in all, there were a total of of 341,000 motor vehicle crashes involving texting in 2013, resulting in about 8 deaths per day. The age group that is most likely to send a text or an email while driving is 21-24.

An insurance agent’s bad faith may be imputed to the insurance company and thus become the company’s bad faith.  However, under Georgia law, the potential liability of an insurance broker or agent (separate from the potential liability of the insurer itself) is limited to the terms of the insurance policy it negligently failed to procure. An agent who negligently fails to procure the requested coverage is liable for loss or damage to the limit of the agreed policy.

J. Smith Lanier & Company v. Southeastern Forge, Inc.

In J. Smith Lanier & Company v. Southeastern Forge, Inc., the Georgia Supreme Court clarified that an agent or broker who negligently fails to procure a policy is not necessarily subject to the same law as an insurer who refuses to pay a claim in bad faith.  Southeastern Forge was a client of the independent insurance broker J. Smith Lanier (“Lanier”).  In 1998, Lanier prepared Southeastern’s application for primary and excess general liability coverage, but negligently failed to list an event on the application when it was submitted to the excess insurer.  After an agricultural blade manufactured by Southeastern Forge malfunctioned and injured a worker in Texas, the excess insurer sought a declaratory judgment that the policy was void ab initio for the failure to list the event on the application.  Southeastern Forge then filed suit against Lanier, asserting negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract to recover the funds expended in the Texas suit.  The trial court held that Southeastern Forge could not obtain more than the $2 million policy limits.  The Georgia Supreme Court agreed, noting that under the facts of that case the law did not impose “the unique statutory duties of insurers on independent brokers who do not issue contracts of insurance and have no duty or ability to evaluate and compromise claims.”

Explanation of Bad Faith Failure to Pay an Insurance Claim

The relationship between you and your insurance company is based on the insurance policy, which is a type of contract. If your insurance company fails to pay a valid claim, it is a breach of the insurance contract. Usually, breach of contract allows an insured to recover only the amounts that would have been due under the insurance contract if the insurance company had paid the claim. In this situation, an insured who has to hire an attorney to get its claim paid is not “made whole.” This is because the insured has to wait a long time for the money it should have been paid earlier and has to pay attorneys’ fees. Insurance companies know this. Insurance companies know that the expense, risk and duration of litigation cause insureds to abandon or compromise their claims.

To partly alleviate these situations, Georgia has an insurance “bad faith” statute, O.C.G.A. § 33-4-6. Georgia’s insurance bad faith statute allows an insured to recover additional damages as a penalty and attorneys’ fees when an insurance company, following a demand from the insured, persists in its refusal to pay amounts due under a policy in “bad faith.” The purpose of the bad faith statute is to remove the incentive for unnecessary delay and to create a situation allowing an insured to be made whole in the event the insured is forced to go to court to enforce the insurance contract.

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