Georgia’s Constitution states that a lawsuit must be filed in the county of residence of the defendant who resides in Georgia. It further provides that where there are two defendant, the lawsuit may be filed in the residence of either defendant. On August 2, 2018, the Georgia Supreme Court answered the question of whether the venue provision under Georgia’s uninsured motorist statute applies in a suit brought against a known Georgia resident and another unknown defendant. See Carpenter v. McMann.
The case involved three vehicles traveling southbound on Interstate 75 in Bibb County. An unknown driver swerved into the lane of one of the car, in which McMann was a passenger, causing the driver of McMann’s car to slam on the brakes which in turn caused Carpenter’s car to rear end McMann’s. The unknown drivers identity remains unknown.
Under Georgia’s uninsured motorist statute the residents of an unknown driver of the motor vehicle is presumed to be in the county in which the car wreck occurred or in the county where the plaintiff resides. The plaintiff can choose to decide which county to file in that situation. This situation involved tdwo defendants, one of whom was unknown and the other a known resident of Georgia.
The case was filed in Bibb County, where the accident occurred. Carpenter moved the court to transfer the case to his county of residence in the trial court denied the motion. Carpenter appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals which affirmed the trial court’s decision. The case was appealed again to the Georgia Supreme Court, which held that because the lawsuit was brought against joint defendants, it could be tried in the county were either resides. Further, because in unknown driver’s residence may be presumed to be where the accident occurred, the case may be tried in that county.
The Court held that under a plain reading of the statute, the Georgia General Assembly provided no limitations suggested that it was their intention that the venue provisions under Georgia’s uninsured motorist statute applied only in cases where a John Doe defendant was the only defendant. Therefore, where a person is injured in a vehicle accident involving a known tortfeasor who is a resident of Georgia and an unknown tortfeasor, the injured party may file suit in the county of residence of the known tortfeasor or in the county where the accident occurred, as the presumed residence of the unknown tortfeasor.