Knight v. Safety National Casualty Corp., A21A1434

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Citation363 Ga.App. 47,870 S.E.2d 526
Docket NumberA21A1434
Decision Date07 March 2022

363 Ga.App. 47
870 S.E.2d 526



Court of Appeals of Georgia.

March 7, 2022

870 S.E.2d 527

Terry Dale Jackson, Woodstock, for Appellant.

Robert D. Ingram, Ryan Matthew Ingram, Marietta, Lindsay Anglin Fleming, Atlanta, Max Philip Perwich, Marietta, for Appellee.

Dillard, Presiding Judge.

363 Ga.App. 47

Melissa Knight appeals from the trial court's grant of Safety National Casualty Corporation's motion to dismiss. Specifically, Knight argues the trial court erred in granting Safety National's motion when (1) she was both a statutory insured and a named insured under its uninsured motorist (UM) policy; (2) she was operating an automobile covered by the UM policy; (3) it is judicially estopped from disclaiming coverage; and (4) the policy is ambiguous. For the reasons set

870 S.E.2d 528

forth infra , we affirm the grant of Safety National's motion to dismiss.1

363 Ga.App. 48

Viewing the pleadings de novo in the light most favorable to Knight as the nonmoving party,2 the record shows that following an automobile accident, Knight sued Trey Prescott Hunley and several John Doe entities. She sought to recover under UM policies from, among other entities, her employer's insurer, Safety National.

The accident occurred while Knight was on a work-related errand for her employer, Waffle House, Inc. Hunley ran a red light and struck the side of Knight's vehicle, causing permanent injuries to Knight. Knight sought to recover a total of "not less than $500,000.00" and attorney fees due to general and special damages for those injuries, medical expenses in excess of $16,000, and lost wages.

In response, Safety National answered and filed a cross-claim against Hunley and Knight's insurance carriers. Among other things, Safety National asserted that Knight was barred from further recovery from her employer because she accepted worker's compensation benefits. It also denied that the relevant UM policy covered Knight. Additionally, Safety National attached a certified copy of Waffle House's insurance policy to its answer.

Thereafter, Safety National moved to dismiss Knight's claim for UM coverage based on failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted—i.e. , that Knight was not covered by Waffle House's UM policy. In support, Safety National cited to both the language of the policy and the definition of "insured" in OCGA § 33-7-11. Following a hearing on the matter, the trial court agreed with Safety National and granted its motion to dismiss on April 10, 2019.

Knight timely appealed the trial court's April, 10, 2019 order, but we dismissed the case because she failed to follow the interlocutory appeal requirements of OCGA § 5-6-34 (b). Upon return to the trial court, Knight filed a consent motion for the dismissal of Hunley and the entry of a final judgment. Specifically, Knight requested that the court "dismiss the claims against Defendant Trey Prescott Hunley, and enter final judgment in this case, so that an appropriate appeal may follow the entry of final judgment and dismissal of Mr. Hunley."

On March 29, 2021, the trial court issued an order in response to the consent motion, which noted, in pertinent part: "All claims against Mr. Hunley are hereby dismissed with prejudice, and this Order shall act as a final judgment in this case as provided by [OCGA] §§ 9-11-54 and 5-6-34, so that the parties may pursue any

363 Ga.App. 49

appellate options they may have from the entry of this Order granting final judgment." This appeal follows.

Before reaching the merits, we must first address Safety National's contention that Knight's appeal is a nonstarter because she failed to satisfy a condition precedent before seeking to collect damages from it as a UM carrier.3 Specifically, Safety National argues that Knight must first obtain a judgment against Hunley before collecting from a UM carrier. And while the trial court's March 29, 2021 order granted a "final judgment in this case" for purposes of OCGA § 9-11-54, Safety National asserts that Knight

870 S.E.2d 529

dismissed her claims against Hunley with prejudice and therefore cannot now recover a judgment against him. So, because Knight cannot recover an actual judgment against Hunley, Safety National maintains she cannot satisfy this prerequisite to recovery from a UM carrier.

We agree with Safety National that Knight fails to satisfy the condition precedent of first obtaining a judgment against Hunley as required by Kent v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co .4 and its progeny. In Kent , the plaintiffs executed a limited release to settle the case against the defendant driver and then went on to voluntarily dismiss all of their claims against the driver with prejudice.5 This Court later determined that because of the voluntary dismissal, the plaintiffs were "prevented from establishing ... liability and securing a judgment against [the driver]."6 And because the plaintiffs could

363 Ga.App. 50

not establish the defendant driver's legal liability, they were barred from recovering UM benefits from their insurance company.7 In addition, and importantly, we rejected the plaintiffs’ argument in Kent that the dismissal with prejudice should be set aside under OCGA § 9-11-60 (d) (2) due to "[f]raud, accident, or mistake," reasoning that any mistake was "the result of [the plaintiffs’] own negligence or fault."8 And a mistaken determination regarding the legal effect of a voluntary dismissal with prejudice against a defendant driver cannot be "ground[s] for either defensive or affirmative relief."9 So too here.10

870 S.E.2d 530

Indeed, even Knight agrees with Safety National that Kent "is problematic for this appeal under OCGA § 9-11-60 (d)." Knight is right to do so, especially in light of the explicit language of Safety

363 Ga.App. 51

National's UM policy that covers "compensatory damages which the insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle ...."11 Even so, Knight attempts to distinguish Kent by arguing that she and Hunley did not "intend" for the trial court's final order to operate as a voluntary dismissal with prejudice but merely as a way to permit the case to proceed on appeal. As a result, she insists Hunley's dismissal with prejudice was a "clerical error," informs this Court that she has asked or will ask the court to "exercise its discretion to correct the clerical error by Knight and Hunley pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-60 (g)," and requests that we allow her appeal to proceed on the merits.12 We find this argument unpersuasive.

Whether by operation of law or the relevant policy language, Knight was required to obtain a judgment against Hunley before seeking to collect UM benefits from Safety National.13 And while Knight claims the dismissal of Hunley with prejudice resulted from a "clerical error,"14 this is an error she was aware of and failed to rectify prior to filing her appeal, which then divested the trial court of jurisdiction over this matter.15

Moreover, Knight's reliance on Sanson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.16 and Mullinax v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.17 is misplaced. In Sanson , a party inadvertently sent

363 Ga.App. 52

a full release and dismissal with prejudice even though the parties intended for the execution of a limited release with no dismissal.18 And as soon

as the mistake was recognized, the party notified the other litigants and filed a motion to rescind the dismissal under OCGA § 9-11-60 (g) as a clerical mistake.19 We then concluded the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Carr v. State, A21A1391
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 7, 2022
    ...the indictment charged Carr with committing sexual battery on Ta. C. in the same manner alleged in counts seven and eight, respectively, 363 Ga.App. 47 except they alleged the sexual abuse occurred the next day, on January 1, 2016. Similarly to counts seven and eight, these separate allegat......
  • WCE Holdings B, LLC v. Lewis, A21A1382, A21A1385
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 7, 2022
    ...on top of the concrete" were "visibly defective posts" which, combined with water and termite damage being "common conditions," should 870 S.E.2d 526 have "prompted" WCE to "take further remedial action."But the evidence does not support this line of reasoning. First, the plaintiffs point t......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT