Once Someone’s Released from an Accident Lawsuit, Can They be Brought Back In?

In a case arising out of an automobile accident that resulted in the deaths of two women in different vehicles, the husband sued, and after a judgment for the defendants asserted on appeal that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the executor of the estate of the defendant driver.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant shouldn’t have been discharged from the case after he executed a limited liability release of Allstate and the defendant under O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1, as well as a release of their claims against Progressive, which provided uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage to the defendant driver.


The question at the heart of this dispute stems from a car crash in which the plaintiff’s wife was driving a vehicle insured solely by Allstate when she collided head-on with a Ford Edge driven by the defendant driver and insured by Progressive. As a result of this collision, the defendant driver’s vehicle rotated into the path of a school bus, sustained a secondary impact, and was then struck a third time by a heavy-duty Ford F250 pickup truck that had been following behind her. The plaintiff sued the defendant driver’s estate, the bus driver, the driver of the Ford F250 and his employer, and an owner of land conducting a controlled burn that reduced visibility in the location where the accident occurred.

In this case, the plaintiff executed a document titled “LIMITED LIABILITY RELEASE PURSUANT TO O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1.” In this release, the plaintiff, identified as “the Undersigned,” agreed:

[to] acquit, remise, release, and forever discharge Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company … and do hereby acquit, remise, release, and forever discharge the defendant  and the estate of the defendant driver (“Limited Releasees”), except to the extent other insurance coverage is available which covers the claim or claims of [the plaintiff] against the Limited Releasees, from any and all claims, demands, rights, causes of action or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever.

On the same day, the plaintiff executed the limited liability release, he also signed a “Release and Trust Agreement Under Uninsured Motorist Insurance Protection Coverage” in which he released and discharged “Progressive … in connection with, arising out of, or to arise or result from [the] accident or occurrence at issue in this case.”

The plaintiff further agreed “to take, through representatives designated by Progressive …, and at the sole expense of Progressive …, such action as may be necessary or appropriate to recover from the defendant, the damages resulting from our involvement in the … accident. …”

Based on the undisputed evidence that there was no other insurance available to cover the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant following the plaintiff’s settlement with Progressive, the defendant moved for summary judgment based upon the limited liability release. The plaintiffs opposed the motion by arguing that the terms of OCGA § 33-24-41.1 mandated that the defendant remain in the case through trial. After holding a hearing, in which plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledged that the defendant’s presence in the case was necessary to retain his chosen venue of Dougherty County, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Relying on case law reiterating generally that a “limited release … does not affect the injured party’s ability to obtain a judgment against the tortfeasor, but merely limits the tortfeasor’s personal liability to the amount of available insurance coverage,” and the absence of a provision in O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1 specifying that a limited release is grounds for a complete dismissal of the released party, the plaintiff argued that the defendant must remain in the case through any trial against the other defendants.

The Decision of the Court of Appeals

Judge E. Trenton Brown III wrote in his opinion for the Georgia Court of Appeals that the plaintiff contended that the availability of insurance coverage to other defendants in the case mandated that this defendant remain in the case. In support of this contention, he relied on the following language in O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1(b)(2):

The limited release provided for in subsection (a) of this Code section shall … release the insured tort-feasor covered by the policy of the settling carrier from all personal liability from any and all claims arising from the occurrence on which the claim is based except to the extent other insurance coverage is available which covers such claim or claims.

The defendant countered that the plaintiff’s interpretation of subsection (b)(2) was contrary to the statute as a whole and would render subsection (d)(1) superfluous. That subsection says:

The limited release of the settling carrier provided for in subsection (a) of this Code section shall not … bar a claimant’s recovery against any other tort-feasor or under any other policy of insurance or release any other insurance carrier providing applicable coverage unless specifically provided for in such release.

But the defendant argued that

subsection (a) of the statute begins by expressly addressing the execution of a limited release for a claim applicable to the settling carrier and its insured. The very next subjection (b) then specifies what the limited release “provided for in subsection (a)” shall do. It releases the insured except to the extent other insurance coverage is available which covers such claim, i.e., the claim applicable to the settling carrier and its insured. Subsection (d) (1) then expressly preserves the settling party’s right to recover against any other tortfeasor or under any other policy of insurance. If subsection (b) (2)’s “other insurance” language was meant to include co-defendants’ insurance coverage, then subsection (d) (1) is rendered superfluous.

Judge Brown wrote that the fundamental rules of statutory construction require the court to construe a statute according to its own terms, to give words their plain and ordinary meaning. In construing language in any one part of a statute, a court should consider the statute as a whole.

After considering the arguments of both parties, Judge Brown and the Court of Appeals found that, even if it assumed that it was appropriate to look to the terms of the limited liability statute rather than or in conjunction with the language in the contract of release signed by the parties, O.C.G.A. § 33-24.41.1(b)(2) didn’t preclude the entry of summary judgment on behalf of the defendant in this case.

In the view of the Court of Appeals, the undisputed lack of any other insurance available to the defendant entitled him to summary judgment in his favor, whether looked at from the point of view of the terms of the limited liability release or the statute. Thus, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to defendant because the limited liability release and plaintiff’s settlement with his uninsured motorist (UM) insurer released the defendant from liability, and plaintiffs’ arguments that defendant should remain in the case under O.C.G.A. § 33-24-41.1 were unpersuasive.

The judgment was affirmed. Ferguson v. Spraggins, 2024 Ga. App. LEXIS 210 (Ga. App. June 3, 2024).

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Your insurance policy contains numerous clauses and definitions that aim to give the insurance company leverage to deny your accident claim. It can be confusing, and you should speak to an Atlanta accident attorney who has worked in this area for years.

If you have questions about insurance policy interpretation and releases, and whether an individual may be liable for your accident, contact the experienced Atlanta accident lawyers at Tobin Injury Law.