Georgia Court of Appeals Finds Potential Liability on Disabled Vehicle – by Rusty Grant

rgrantThe Georgia Court of Appeals has reversed an award of summary judgment in favor of a motorist whose tractor ran out of gas. Eric Skrine was operating a tractor for MST Transportation on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta when he ran out of gas. At the time, he was in the far right of three travel lanes in his direction. Skrine activated his hazard lights and put out three reflective warning triangles as required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations.

Before Skrine could refuel and move the tractor, Melanie Granger and her ten-month-old son were traveling in the left lane of Moreland Avenue in the same direction Skrine had been traveling. Granger moved to the center lane and was thereafter struck from behind. That impact pushed Granger into the right lane, where she collided with the disabled tractor. Granger sued Skrine and MST for injuries suffered during the collision. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that Skrine’s actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.

The Court of Appeals reversed. In doing so, it held that a jury could find it foreseeable that a motorist could strike the disabled vehicle through no fault of her own:

“…we conclude that it was not unforeseeable as a matter of law that another motorist on the road, for reasons beyond his or her control (including the negligent or unlawful actions of another driver), might be placed in a position in which it was all but impossible to avoid striking Skine’s stationary tractor.”

2014 WL 5151528 (Ga. App.), p. 3

The Court of Appeals did not make findings of fact, but rather left for the jury to decide both whether Skrine was negligent and whether such negligence caused the injuries alleged. Nevertheless, the decision puts drivers of disabled vehicles in a difficult position, given that the evidence showed Skrine’s compliance with the applicable safety regulations. The Court of Appeals held that it was for a jury to decide if Skrine was negligent in allowing his vehicle to run out of gas, even if he complied with the regulations after the vehicle came to a stop.