“Failure to yield” is one of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents that we see. The driver of a four-wheeled vehicle will be making a left turn from a traffic light with a circle-green signal, or will be turning left across the oncoming traffic lane in a rural intersection, and will turn right in front of a motorcycle.
It happens too often. Over and over, the drivers who failed to yield say some version of, ‘I just didn’t see him!’ Whether at-fault drivers are subconsciously looking for other cars or are just not looking hard enough, four-wheeled vehicles turning in front of motorcycles cause lots deaths and serious injuries. The cases aren’t complicated – the motorcycle had the right-of-way and the other driver simply failed to yield. But the consequences can be devastating. Death and life-altering injuries are common.
It was one of these failure-to-yield collisions that took the life of Reggie Waters.* But in this case, there was something more to the story.
Facts of the Motorcycle Accident
Failure to yield is what put Mr. Waters in the hospital. On a two-lane road in Carroll County, Georgia, Mr. Waters was heading south on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The at-fault driver, Zenas Hillman, was heading north. Hillman made a left turn from the two-lane Georgia highway onto a side street, and he turned in front of Waters when he made that turn. Waters had the right-of-way but Hillman failed to yield. Waters didn’t have time to stop. Waters’s motorcycle slammed into the side of the pickup truck and his body went flying through the air. Mr. Waters’s pelvis was broken on both sides. He was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
This stillshot from a responding officer’s dash camera shows the scene of the motorcycle collision.
The investigating officer’s diagram shows how the motorcycle accident happened.
Hospital Treatment for Motorcycle Accident Injuries
Grady provides great care for many patients, but sometimes a patient falls through the cracks. That’s what happened to Mr. Waters. It involved a rogue nurse in Grady’s Intensive Care Unit.
Working as an ICU nurse is not easy and no person is perfect. Mistakes happen. But the evidence showed that with Nurse Johnson, mistakes kept happening – one after the other, all in the short time that Mr. Waters was in ICU. One gravely ill ICU patient was not supposed to have food or drink, but a family remember returned to the patient’s room to find him choking on ice chips that Nurse Johnson had given him. Another patient’s father noticed his daughter running a 104° fever and couldn’t get Nurse Johnson to help – he had to call another nurse to help, even though Nurse Johnson tried to shoo the other nurse away. The father called the administrators, and there was a tense meeting in the halls of Grady’s ICU about Nurse Johnson.
After his pelvis had been surgically bolted back together, Mr. Waters was not supposed to stand up. He was a big man and his pelvis had been badly broken in the motorcycle accident. But when it came time to move Mr. Waters from ICU to a standard hospital room, Nurse Johnson was supposed to make the transfer. It wasn’t totally clear what happened next. Others who were on the ICU that morning recalled nurses shouting for help and exclaiming, “Johnson dropped him.” According to another version of events, Johnson had Mr. Waters stand when he shouldn’t have. Either way, the consequences are not in doubt – Mr. Waters had a heart attack and died.
This medical record from Grady shows that Mr. Waters was not supposed to be standing.
This coroner’s report describes when Mr. Waters died after the motorcycle accident.
Figuring all this out wasn’t easy. The father of the patient who had the 104° fever had reached out for Mr. Waters’s family on social media. They passed the information along to our firm, and our lawyers were able to set up a phone call. It turned out that the father felt guilty for what happened to Mr. Waters – although supervising ICU nurses wasn’t his responsibility, he felt like if he had reported Nurse Johnson earlier, Mr. Waters might have lived. (We reassured him that he had done all he could.) He had contact information for the relative of the patient who had almost choked on ice chips, so we were able to contact that witness as well. After speaking with those two witnesses and others who had been present in the ICU with Mr. Waters, we had a pretty good picture of what had happened and why.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Case?
Whenever someone has died, a lawyer’s first job (which is often overlooked in the shuffle and excitement) is to make sure that they represent the right people. Which family members have the right to bring the wrongful death claim?
Georgia’s wrongful death statute is fairly clear about this. If the decedent left a surviving spouse, that person can bring the claim. If there is no surviving spouse, then the decedent’s children can bring the wrongful death claim.
And if there is no surviving spouse and the decedent had no children, then the decedent’s parents can file the wrongful death claim.
Here, Mr. Waters had been married, but he wasn’t married at the time of the motorcycle accident (or his death). That ruled out the spouse – she wasn’t the one to bring the claim. Georgia law may be confusing at times, but at least it doesn’t put ex-spouses in charge of wrongful death claims.
Mr. Waters had two children. They were the proper wrongful death claimants. One of them, Serene, was now over eighteen, so she could make her own decisions and act on her own. Serene asked our firm to represent her, and we did.
Serene also had a younger brother, Clint. However, Clint was not yet eighteen years old, and the family’s relationship with Clint’s guardian – his mother – had not always been good. But Serene courageously put us in touch with Clint’s mother. We called and were able to have a productive conversation. Clint’s mother agreed that Clint should join Serene in bringing the wrongful death claim and she hired our firm to represent him.
That meant we were ready to go – our firm now represented all of the wrongful death beneficiaries.
Wrongful Death & Motorcycle Accident Settlement
Who killed Mr. Waters? Was it the driver who failed to yield and caused the motorcycle accident that put Mr. Waters in the hospital? Or was it medical malpractice by Nurse Johnson and Grady Memorial Hospital?
In Georgia, an at-fault driver who causes a collision is liable – i.e., financially responsible – not only for what happens at the scene of the accident, but is also liable for any medical complications that follow. Smith v. Hardy, 144 Ga. App. 168, 173-74 (1977). After all, the injured person would not have needed the medical attention in the first place if the at-fault driver hadn’t hit them.
Here, we knew that we could hold insurance company for the driver who had failed to yield responsible for the death of Mr. Waters, even though Mr. Waters had not died on the scene of the collision. We talked with Serene and Clint, then reached motorcycle accident settlements with two different insurance companies for their full limits.
That didn’t mean that Grady was off the hook. After all, it was Nurse Johnson who either dropped Mr. Waters or asked him to stand against orders, leading to Mr. Waters’s death. Our witness work had revealed the truth about what happened, and our clients had a good medical malpractice case. For that, we partnered with some other lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice (at no additional charge to Serene or Clint) so the medical malpractice case could be brought. That case also led to a sizeable settlement.
At the end of the day, this motorcycle accident case let to two settlements and two satisfied clients. Serene left us a nice review, which you can see below. We are still waiting on Clint . . .
*This name and the others appearing herein have been changed for privacy.