At this very instant, at least one Atlanta-area radio station is probably playing some version of “Sleigh Ride.” So, why does a holiday classic like this one get so little play time during this yuletide season? Actually, this trite little ditty has some interesting things to say about negligence law in Georgia, if you can get past the whole Elmo ‘n’ Patsy 1970s thing.
The first order of business in any car crash case is to identify the tortfeasor (negligent driver). In most cases, this task is easy to check off the list. But this is a hit-and-run case, so there is almost no evidence that Santa Claus was behind the wheel, or holding the reins, as it were. The song only refers to “incriminating Claus marks,” whatever those are, and “hoof prints on her forehead.”
Fortunately for Grandpa, the standard of proof is very low in negligence cases. Victims must only establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence, which means “more likely than not.” And, although there is only circumstantial evidence (hoof prints and Christmas Eve), a reasonable juror could conclude that, more likely than not, Santa was the hit-and-run driver.
This preliminary ruling is encouraging, but the other facts do not bode as well for Grandpa. Over a third of pedestrians are legally intoxicated, and just before the incident, Grandma had “too much eggnog” and “staggered through the door into the snow.” Additionally, she was off her medication, so the alcohol impairment may have been even worse.
However, on the other end, Santa Claus is hardly as pure as the driven snow. He was driving his sleigh on the ground and not “up on the rooftops” where he is authorized to operate, which is the equivalent of a regular motorist driving on the sidewalk, and he ran over an elderly woman without stopping. In other words, even if Macdonald Carey were to come back from the grave to defend him again (does anyone else remember the original Miracle On 34th Street?), things are looking grim for the jolly old elf. Georgia is a modified comparative fault state with a 50 percent bar, so for Grandpa to recover damages, Santa Claus must be at least 50 percent liable for Grandma’s wrongful death.
We wish everyone a happy holiday season, regardless of how you choose to celebrate it!