North Fulton County

Jury says City of Milton responsible for death of Ivy League student, awards family $32.5M

MILTON, Ga. — Seven years after a college student died in a car crash in Milton, a Fulton County jury ordered the city to pay his family more than $30 million dollars.

Josh Chang, 21, died in 2016 when his car swerved off Batesville Rd. and hit an empty, decorative planter on the city’s property. The planter was made of stone, stacked around a tractor tire filled with dirt, according to the police report. Chang died before paramedics arrived.

The police report says Chang was going below the 45 mph speed limit at 38 mph. It also says that he was going just 19 mph when he hit the planter.

“It’s a death trap,” attorney Chris Simon told Channel 2′s Courtney Francisco.

Simon was part of the team of attorneys who sued the city on behalf of Chang’s parents. The city first asked a judge to dismiss the case due to sovereign immunity laws. A judge ruled the family can sue the city but asked the parties to mediate the case first.

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Simon said the city’s insurance company refused to pay the family any portion of the $2 million dollars it had in coverage.

So, the case moved to a jury trial this week.

During the trial, the Chang family attorneys argued their son had a bright future as an engineer. He was Salutatorian of the class of 2013 at Woodstock High School. In 2016, he was a Senior at Yale.

“People like him are the people out there working on curing cancer,” said Chris Simon. “They’re designing the new lightweight airplane. They’re making a real difference.”

He had returned home to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving break when he crashed around 7:30 in the evening when his car ran off the road, possibly to avoid hitting an animal.

Attorneys argued if the planter was not on the side of the road, Chang would have had enough room to slide to a stop.

Plus, attorneys told the jury, the city has an ordinance requiring it to evaluate fixed objects in the right of way and remove hazards within 30 days.

“They created a duty for themselves saying you shall take these out gives you the time and date to get it done,” said Simon. “That’s what they should have done years ago. It’s awful that it took this to do it.”


Francisco called and e-mailed the City of Milton Friday to get a response, but did not hear back.

Simon said throughout the trial, they argued they didn’t know the plater was an obstruction.

It took a jury just over an hour of deliberating to decide Chang was seven percent at fault, but Milton was 93 percent at fault. Court documents say Chang’s pain and suffering is worth $5 million and his life $30 million.

His family will get 93 percent of that.

“Numbers like this make cities pay attention, and they make them get safer,” said Simon.

He said Milton should put inspectors in place to evaluate their 70 miles of roadway for other dangers. He said other cities across the state will likely hear about this case and begin to do the same.

“I guarantee you that across this huge state, there are other situations like this where something got built, and it’s almost a danger hiding in plain sight,” said Simon.

The city can appeal the judge’s decision to allow the family to sue. That process could take about a year and a half, according to attorneys. That decision could move to appeal at the Georgia Supreme Court which could add on another six to eight months to the process.

The entire time, the jury’s initial award would be accruing interest. Attorneys do not believe the initial $35 million would affect taxpayers but said over time, appeals could lead to a pinch.

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