This is usually the first question in peoples’ minds—and for good reason. It’s important.
The overwhelming majority of the time, the police officer who arrives at the scene of the accident will decide who he or she believes to be at fault. Usually, the officer will issue a citation, commonly called a “ticket,” to the person at fault. In an urban or metropolitan area like Atlanta, Lawrenceville, Jonesboro, or Roswell (where we have offices), an officer normally arrives at the scene of the accident fairly quickly. If you were struck in the rear by another driver, that other driver will almost always be cited with “following too closely” in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49. Other common citations in Georgia include failure to maintain lane under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48, failure to yield under O.C.G.A § 40-6-71, and failure to obey a traffic light under O.C.G.A § 40-6-20.
Not everyone realizes it, but Georgia law allows for percentages of fault under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33. That can make sense if both parties did something wrong—if, for instance, the first driver pulled out from a stop sign without looking, and a second driver who was speeding hit him or her, then both parties are at fault. If you were in a car accident and the other driver was 80% at fault, then you could recover 80% of the total damages (in other words, 80% of your medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.). As long you were 49% at fault or less—in other words, as long as the other person(s) are mostly at fault—you can recover at least some damages under Georgia law. Of course in many cases, only one party is at fault. If you were lawfully sitting at a red light when another driver struck your car in the rear, the other driver should bear 100% of the fault.
Under Georgia law, percentages of fault can also be applied to people not involved in the lawsuit, also known as “nonparties.” For example, imagine that Driver A was rear-ended by Driver B and sues Driver B. In court, however, Driver B testifies that the reason for the collision wasn’t that Driver B was texting and driving, but instead that Mr. Mechanic did a bad job repairing Driver B’s brakes the previous week. In that scenario, if the jury believes that Driver B is telling the truth, the jury might assign some percentage of fault to Mr. Mechanic. And if the jury assigned 60% of fault to Driver B and 40% to Mr. Mechanic, then Driver B’s insurance company would only have to pay 60% of the verdict.
This idea of percentage-based fault is called “apportionment,” and is set up by Georgia law. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33. Watch the video below to learn more about it.