Georgia vs. Alabama

They are similar states located right next to each other, but their laws are so different.  In Alabama, if an individual is killed in an accident, the damages available to the family are strictly punitive.   In other words, the family can only ask a jury to punish the person at fault.  No compensatory damages are available to the family.  So, if a father of two who was 38 years old and earned $60,000.00/year was killed by a person who ran a red light, the family could not ask the jury to compensate them for the present value of his future earnings over his life expectancy (approximately 37 years).  In addition, if he was not killed instantly and spent two or three months in the hospital, the family could not ask a jury to compensate them for his medical expenses or pain and suffering (unless a lawsuit was filed while he was alive).

In Georgia, things are much different.  Not only could the family ask for the father’s future life earnings, but they could also ask for his pain and suffering, the cost of his medical care, and the value of his life.  In addition, if the person at fault deserved punishment, the family could ask for punitive damages as well.

In Alabama, if two people are in a car accident, the insurance company for the person at  fault (assuming they have insurance which is a big assumption in Alabama) usually pays the damages.  However, if the injured party is forced to file suit, that party cannot mention the other party’s insurance carrier.  For example, if John Doe runs his vehicle into Mary Smith’s vehicle and injures Mary Smith, Mary Smith can only file a lawsuit against John Doe, not against his insurance company, say Allstate.  Mary Smith can never tell the jury that John Doe has insurance with Allstate, but John Doe can tell the jury that Mary Smith had BlueCross BlueShield to cover her medical expenses.  So, some juries are left wondering if John Doe has insurance to cover the claim.

What’s Georgia’s answer to this issue?  Georgia has a “direct action” statute.  That statute says that an injured party may file a lawsuit against the party at fault AND his insurance company.  Consequently, in the example above, Mary Smith would file the lawsuit against both John Doe AND Allstate, and the jury is aware that John Doe has automobile insurance coverage.

Which laws make more sense? Alabama’s or Georgia’s?  Shouldn’t a family be able to recovery something to help them with the loss of the father and husband?  Even if it’s just a little bit, it helps the family get back on their feet while they suffer through their grief.  Shouldn’t we be above board with our juries?  Why hide the fact that a party has insurance coverage?  Isn’t that what it’s there for, and shouldn’t the jury be able to know that?  My answer is yes, what’s yours?

Jon E. Lewis, of the law firm Lewis & McAtee, P.C., is a licensed and practicing attorney in Alabama and Georgia.  You can read about these and many other issues at the firm’s many websites.


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