Partner Joseph Kaiser Prevails in the Georgia Court of Appeals

April 30, 2020 – Partner Joseph Kaiser prevailed in the Court of Appeals on a case that originated in the State Court of Fulton County.  In that case, Plaintiff Judah Bell was involved in an automobile accident on May 17, 2016 in Oakland, California with a man named James Brown (who was actually an acquaintance of hers).  Following the accident, Plaintiff moved back to Georgia and lost touch with Mr. Brown.  Mr. Brown did have automobile liability insurance in the State Minimum amount for California of $15,000/$30,000.  There was no police report made for the accident, but there was no dispute about the identities of the parties or the manner in which the accident occurred.  Plaintiff contended she suffered multiple injuries to her body including a torn right meniscus which ultimately required surgical repair.  She claimed medical damages in excess of $30,000 along with future medical damages and past and future pain and suffering. She further contended that the injury was permanent and debilitating.

Because Plaintiff lost touch with Mr. Brown and had known him to live in multiple states, she alleged Mr. Brown’s whereabouts were unknown and elected to bring suit for this accident in the State Court of Fulton County against John Doe and served State Farm (her uninsured/under insured motorist carrier) with process in the manner required by O.C.G.A. 33-7-11.  State Farm filed an Answer in this matter and moved for Summary Judgment on the grounds that Georgia Law requires a defendant (if known) to be named in the suit and that at least a nominal judgment against the tortfeasor is a prerequisite under Georgia Law to allow recovery from a UM/UIM carrier.  State Farm further disputed this suit was also an improperly filed John Doe action.  Plaintiff filed a response largely relying upon the notion that “wherabouts unknown” is equal under the law to “identity unknown” and thus a John Doe action would be authorized and they were relieved of their obligation to obtain a nominal judgment against the tortfeasor.  Judge Wesley Tailor granted State Farm’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals upheld Judge Tailor’s grant of summary judgment in favor of State Farm specifically holding that it was undisputed that the identity of the tortfeasor, Mr. Brown, was known and that where the identity of a tortfeasor is known, they must be named as a party.

The original case is Judah Bell v. John Doe and State Farm, State Court of Fulton County, CAFN: 18-EV-02221

The full appellate opinion can be downloaded and read here or located at Bell v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 842 S.E.2d 530 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020)