In most states, if you experience an injury, you will be able to recover monetary damages for that injury. Whether your case goes to trial or whether your case settles before a jury trial, you will receive some payment for your injury. However, if you had any role in contributing to your injury, then your recovery will be decreased by how much responsibility you had.
Most states have a form of “contributory negligence” which examines what percentage, if any at all, you had in causing your injury.
Some states say that if you had any fault for your injury, you cannot win. It’s a complete bar to recovery. Some states say that if you had any fault, you can still recover. The State of Georgia uses a system called “modified comparative negligence” which means that if your own actions are found to be 50% or more responsible for your accident/injury, you will not be able to recover for your accident/injury. If you are determined to be less than 50% responsible, your settlement/verdict will take into account your amount of fault and reduce it from the award.
How Do You Determine Fault in a Georgia Car Accident?
Determining fault after a Georgia car accident requires careful examination of the evidence. The insurance adjuster will often review the available evidence and information, determine fault, and compensate injured victims.
Injury victims are entitled to seek compensation when they sustain an injury that is caused by another individual. On the other hand, if the injury victim’s own carelessness was the sole cause of the injury, the victim will probably receive no compensation unless the injury was work-related and covered by workers’ compensation.
The question of compensation becomes complicated when more than one person is at fault. Fault is often shared by the injury victim and by a negligent party. A store that allows merchandise to jut into an aisle from a low shelf is at fault for creating a tripping hazard, but a customer who is texting while walking down the aisle and trips over the merchandise may also be at fault for not paying attention to his or her surroundings.
How is Fault Determined in a Georgia Car Accident?
O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 “Apportionment of damages in actions against more than one person according to the percentage of fault of each person”, subsection (g), says that “…the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover any damages if the plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible for the injury or damages claimed.”
Let’s take an example. Say you are a pedestrian walking in a street. And you choose to walk across the road, but not in a crosswalk. And say you walk when you thought it was safe, but there was a car that was speeding and hit you. Let’s presume you have to have surgeries to repair a broken bone. If a jury decides that you should be awarded $500,000, and the jury assigns you 25% responsibility because they feel you were partially negligent as you shouldn’t have walked across the road outside of a crosswalk, then your actual recovery will be $375,000.
Insurance companies know this law. And they try and use this law to apportion some portion of the blame on injured folks. That is why it is important you explain to your car accident lawyer every detail and every fact of your case. A well-educated attorney will do the legwork and gather the evidence from witnesses, surveillance cameras, officers, and medical professionals to build a strong case.
Determining Fault in a Georgia Car Accident
In Georgia car accident cases, fault refers to responsibility for the accident. Sometimes only one driver is responsible. Sometimes two or more drivers share responsibility. On occasion, a third party (such as a city) might bear some responsibility for contributing to an accident.
Determining fault is important because it affects the compensation an injury victim will receive. The initial question is whether someone other than the injury victim was responsible for causing the collision. If the victim’s own carelessness was the sole cause of an accident, the victim cannot bring a successful personal injury claim.
However, when the other driver is entirely responsible for the accident, determining fault is a matter of finding evidence to prove that driver’s negligence. In some cases, fault is disputed. For example, if a head-on collision occurred near the centerline, each driver might say that the other driver crossed the line. Resolving those disputes requires an accident investigation.
In many accidents, fault is shared by at least two drivers. Many intersection accidents could be avoided if both drivers were paying attention. A driver who had the legal duty to yield will generally be more at fault, but the second driver may also be at fault for speeding into the intersection or for failing to notice the first driver was not coming to a stop.
Car Accident Investigations in Georgia
Determining fault begins with an investigation of the facts surrounding the accident. The police officer who responds to the scene of the accident may conduct an investigation if fault is not clear. That investigation may consist of interviewing the drivers, talking to witnesses, taking photographs of the scene and of the cars, sketching the accident scene, and making measurements.
When injuries are serious and the police think a crime other than a simple traffic violation may have been committed, they might follow up with an additional investigation. Larger police departments may have officers who have special training in accident investigations. In addition, the Georgia Department of Public Safety has a Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) that investigates fatal crashes.
Accident victims can contribute to fact-gathering by using their cellphones to take pictures of the accident scene, including the positions of both cars immediately after the accident. Accident victims should also take note of witnesses who may have observed the accident so that they can be interviewed later.
A personal injury lawyer will want to conduct an additional investigation when facts in the police report are unclear or incomplete. The lawyer may send an investigator to the accident scene to measure skid marks and to look for accident debris, gouges in the road, and other evidence that will shed light on where and how the accident occurred. The investigator may also find and interview witnesses. Downloading data from the “black box” in the accident victim’s vehicle can also help the victim prove fault.
In some cases, the accident victim’s lawyer will want to hire an engineer who specializes in accident reconstruction. In any event, the lawyer will want to gather evidence as quickly as possible, before memories fade and marks on the road disappear. For that reason, it is important to contact an Atlanta car accident lawyer as soon as possible when a car accident causes an injury.
Supporting Documents for Proving Your Claim
There are some very important documents that can help to support your claim, and the good news is that you probably already have some (if not all) of these documents.
- Police report: You likely encountered a police officer at the scene of the accident and they will have created an official accident report. In some cases, when the cause of the accident is clear or when one party admits fault, the police officer will note this in the report.
- Video or photo evidence: This can be evidence collected from other sources, such as a business’ security camera, or it can be photos and videos that you yourself have taken. There are often many details at the scene of an accident that hint at how the accident occurred. Even if you don’t notice these details immediately following the accident, preserving the scene through photo evidence will allow you, your lawyer, or a forensic analyst to re-examine the scene later on.
- Medical reports and bills: If you’ve seen a doctor or you sought any medical treatment for your injuries, you might already have some medical documentation or you can request it. These documents can show what you’ve been diagnosed with, any diagnostic tests you’ve received, any prescription drugs you’ve been prescribed, or any recommended treatment plans you’ve been given. All of this information can help substantiate your claim that you’ve been injured — and that the injury was a result of the accident.
If you have been injured in a crash, contact a car accident lawyer in Georgia, which clients recommend from the Butler Kahn to find out what legal options you may have.
Comparative Fault in Georgia
Different states have different rules that govern the payment of compensation when two drivers in a car accident are both at fault. The comparative fault rule in Georgia was established by the state legislature. It can be found in section 51-12-33 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.
The rule, known as modified comparative fault, requires the “trier of fact” (typically a jury in car accident cases) to determine the injury victim’s percentage of fault for the accident. For example, a jury might decide that one driver was 25% at fault and the other was 75% at fault.
The comparative fault rule affects a jury’s award of compensation in two ways:
- If the jury decides that the accident victim is 50% or more at fault, the judge will not award any compensation to the victim, regardless of the amount of compensation that the jury determines is appropriate for the injuries that the victim suffered.
- If the jury decides that the accident victim is less than 50% at fault, the judge will reduce the compensation determined by the jury in proportion to the victim’s fault. For example, if the jury awarded $100,000 in compensation and found that the victim was 25% at fault for the accident, the judge will reduce the compensation by 25% and give the accident victim a judgment for $75,000.
Comparative Fault Principles
When the accident victim and at least one other party are at fault, most states apply a legal rule known as a comparative fault (or comparative negligence). The jury is instructed to compare the fault of the injury victim to the fault of other parties who shared responsibility for the accident. A judge then uses the jury’s determination to decide whether the injury victim is entitled to all, some, or none of the compensation awarded by the jury.
Different states apply various rules when determining comparative fault. Some states will only allow an injury victim to recover compensation if the victim was less than 50% at fault for the accident. A variation of that approach limits recovery to victims who were 50% or less at fault.
Some states only allow injury victims to recover compensation from parties who were more at fault than the victim. For example, if the accident victim was 20% at fault, a second person was 10% at fault, and a third person was 70% at fault, the injury victim will be allowed to recover compensation from the third individual but not from the second.
Other states allow victims to recover compensation from any other party whose negligence contributed to the accident, even if that person was less negligent than the accident victim. Only a few states will not allow the injury victim to recover compensation if the victim had any responsibility for the accident.
States with comparative fault rules usually require compensation awarded to an injury victim to be reduced in proportion to fault. To use a simple example involving two drivers who collided, if the injury victim was 20% at fault, the victim will recover 80% of full compensation for their accident injuries.
Joint Liability in Comparative Fault
Joint liability refers to shared responsibility for compensating an injury victim. While comparative fault rules determine whether an accident victim can recover compensation and, if so, the percentage of full compensation the victim can receive, joint liability determines how the responsibility for paying that compensation should be shared when more than one negligent party caused the victim’s injury.
The traditional joint liability rule allows a victim to recover compensation from any negligent party who is able to pay it. If one party pays full compensation to the injury victim, it is that party’s burden to seek a contribution from the other negligent party.
For example, assume that two negligent parties contributed to the accident victim’s injuries. Let’s say that one party was 20% at fault and the other party was 80% at fault. Under the traditional rule, the victim would be entitled to collect full compensation from the party who was 20% at fault, leaving that party to seek reimbursement for 80% of the compensation from the other party.
Joint liability rules become important when two parties share responsibility for injuring an accident victim, but only one party has adequate insurance. The traditional rule is premised on the idea that it is fairer for an accident victim to recover full compensation from a party who had some responsibility for the accident than to leave the victim with inadequate compensation simply because the party who was more at fault lacks the resources to pay a judgment.
Unfortunately for accident victims, many states have replaced the traditional rule of joint liability with a rule that apportions responsibility for paying compensation according to the parties’ comparative fault. In the example above, the party who was 20% at fault would pay only 20% of full compensation even if the party who was 80% at fault was uninsured and unable to pay anything.
Some states apply the traditional rule to economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost wages) while applying the comparative rule to noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering). A personal injury lawyer in the state where you were injured can explain how that state’s joint liability rules might affect your ability to obtain compensation for your injuries.
The Key to Success
The key to success in a Georgia car accident case is to convince a jury to minimize the negligence of the accident victim and to maximize the proportion of fault that is attributable to an insured driver. Lawyers who have a history of convincing juries to return comparative fault verdicts that favor accident victims, obtain better settlements for their clients. The experienced car accident lawyers at Butler Kahn can evaluate your case and explain the likely impact of Georgia’s comparative fault rules on your recovery.