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Negligence Per Se Upheld In Georgia Car Accident Case: Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., et al. v. Shepard (Ga, Ct. of App. 2015)

Negligence per se-stemming from Latin and meaning "itself"-is a legal principle which means that an individual was negligent because they violated a statute or regulation.

In order to prove negligence per se, the plaintiff must usually prove that: (1) the defendant violated the statute; (2) the statute provides for criminal penalties (fines, imprisonment, or both) but not civil penalties; (3) the defendant's actions caused the type of harm the statute was enacted to prevent; and (4) the injured plaintiff was a member of the class of people the statute was designed to protect.

Once a plaintiff establishes the above four elements, it becomes the defendant's burden to show that the violation of the statute was unintentional and committed in the exercise of ordinary care.

The recent case of Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., et al. v. Shepard provides a perfect illustration of negligence per se where the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the doctrine in a car accident case. Before we can discuss the facts of the case, however, we must look at the Georgia Code.

Georgia Code

Pursuant to Section 40-6-48 of Georgia's Uniform Rules of the Road, a car or truck must be driven as nearly as possible within a single lane on the roadway. The law goes on to state that a driver cannot move from their lane until they have first determined it is safe to do so. A driver who fails to follow the terms of Section 40-6-48, as a provision of Georgia law, may be liable for negligence per se if the violation results in a car accident and injury.

Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., et al. v. Shepard

In Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., et al. v. Shepard, a Whole Foods employee (employee) crashed into a car driven by Richard Shepard (Shepard) as the employee was attempting to switch lanes. According to the evidence, the front passenger wheel on the employee's truck hit the rear driver's side wheel on Shepard's car causing Shepard to lose control of his vehicle.

The employee testified in deposition that he checked both of his mirrors before attempting to change lanes, and Shepard testified that he was in his own lane at the time of the accident and was not intending on switching lanes just prior to the accident.

Shepard filed a personal injury action against the employee and Whole Foods alleging that the employee was negligent per se for violating Section 40-6-48 of the Uniform Rules of the Road. Shepard filed a motion for summary judgment, and the employee responded with testimony that he had not yet moved into Shepard's lane at the time of the accident.

Shepard then moved the court to disregard the employee's testimony (that he had not switched lanes) because it contradicted the employee's earlier deposition testimony (that he had looked both ways before moving into Shepard's lane). The trial court agreed with Shepard, and granted summary judgment in his favor. The employee appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's verdict. According to the Court, the trial court correctly applied the "Prophecy Rule," which requires the trial court to disregard favorable aspects of a witness's conflicting testimony when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Thus, the evidence showed that the employee left his lane and collided into Shepard's vehicle. And because the employee failed to present any evidence to the contrary (but for his conflicting testimony which had to be ignored), the employee was negligent per se.

Aside from a perfect illustration of negligence per se, this case illustrates the importance of understanding the nuances of the Georgia Evidence Code and applicable legal doctrines (like the Prophecy Rule). A skilled, Georgia personal injury attorney, like the associates at Murphy & Garner, LLC, will have this knowledge and can represent you in your personal injury case.

If you have been injured in a car accident or any other personal injury case, contact one of the dedicated associates at Murphy & Garner, LLC. We will fight for your rights and get you the compensation you deserve. Call us today for a free consultation at (770) 537-5201.

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