- To protect construction workers and drivers, Georgia has enacted numerous laws governing construction zones, and those who violate those laws are severely punished.
- In addition to higher fines and other penalties, a driver who causes an accident in a construction zone is more likely to be punished with punitive damages, which may far exceed the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a typical negligence claim.
- If your accident was caused by a road defect or other hazard in a construction zone, you may need to file a claim against the government entity responsible for maintaining the roadway.
- If your accident took place in a construction zone, the settlement process works the same way as in a standard injury claim, though the amount of compensation owed may be much greater due to reckless driving.
As most drivers can see on a daily basis, there are always many construction zones along Georgia’s busy interstates and roadways. While these construction projects help improve and maintain our roads, they can also present significant challenges for drivers, such as unfamiliar signage, reduced speed limits, detours, lane pattern changes, frequent stops, and less space due to workers and heavy machinery.
Because of these potentially hazardous conditions, drivers have a duty to exercise more caution when traveling through construction zones, both for the protection of workers and other drivers. In Georgia, there are numerous statutes that specifically apply to construction zones, and a driver who violates these laws may face severe consequences—including large fines, insurance penalties, jail time, and costly legal claims. Georgia’s Construction Zone Driving Laws
Road construction workers face constant danger on the job from cars, trucks, and other conditions on Georgia’s congested interstates and roadways. To help protect workers and drivers, the state has enacted specific laws that apply to construction zones, and violations of these laws can result in harsh penalties for drivers.
For example, a construction zone will often have a lower speed limit than the one normally posted—even on highways—and drivers are expected to be more cautious of road conditions and any workers and construction vehicles present. Georgia law requires that the reduced speed be posted on signs at the beginning and end of the work zone, as well as throughout the zone “no further than one mile apart.” O.C.G.A.§ 40-6-188 (c)(2).
Speeding in a work zone, whether the speed limit is reduced or not, is considered a misdemeanor of a “high and aggravated nature” and is punishable “by a fine of not less than $100.00 nor more than $2,000.00 or by imprisonment for a term not to exceed 12 months, or both.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-188 (e)(2).
In addition, drivers are required to yield the right of way to any authorized vehicle or person working in “any highway construction or maintenance area indicated by official traffic-control devices” and whenever the vehicle “displays flashing or revolving amber lights and has a permit to use such amber lights.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-75. You are also expected to reduce your speed as
you approach a work zone where vehicles have amber lights displayed and move your lane position away from workers and vehicles.
In a work zone, signs related to construction take priority over other posted signs. Construction signs in work zones have an orange background and black symbols or letters. If a flagger is directing traffic through or around the work zone, they have the same authority as a regulatory sign.
Under Georgia law, a “highway work zone” includes “any highway, road, or street where the Department of Transportation, a county, a municipality, or any contractor for any of the foregoing is engaged in constructing, reconstructing, or maintaining the physical structure of the roadway or its shoulders or features adjacent to the roadway.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-188 (a)(1). The law requires that signs be posted warning of the work, and signs must conform to Georgia statutes.
Violations of any of the above construction zone laws can impact a car accident claim, whether the case involves a driver who negligently hit a worker or vehicle or a driver who crashed because warning signs had fallen or not been properly posted. Penalties for Car Accidents in Construction Zones
The consequences for violating construction zone laws can be severe, especially if your actions cause someone to be injured in an accident.
If you’re found guilty of speeding in a construction zone, you may be fined up to $2,000 and face up to a year in jail—a much higher penalty than a typical speeding violation. Depending on how fast you were going, you could also receive up to 6 points on your driver’s license, which can affect your insurance premiums and/or lead to a license suspension (if you receive more than 15 points in 24 months). Other violations, such as failure to yield to a construction vehicle, can result in 3 points on your license.
In addition to higher fines and other penalties, a driver who causes an accident in a construction zone is more likely to be punished with punitive damages, which may far exceed the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a typical negligence claim. In Georgia, punitive damages may be awarded when the at-fault driver showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1.
In a car accident case, punitive damages may not be awarded merely for negligence but for outrageous conduct such as drunk driving or reckless driving. Drunk driving is established by your blood alcohol content or other markers of impairment, but reckless driving depends on the circumstances in each case.
Reckless driving is defined as “driving in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property.” When deciding what constitutes reckless driving, courts consider time of day, road conditions, and amount of traffic as well as other factors, such as the presence of people and construction vehicles in a work zone. Because construction zones place not only the workers but other drivers at greater risk for injury or death, courts often find recklessness in work zone accidents caused by speeding or other bad driving.
How Can Injured Construction Workers Collect Compensation?
If you were injured while working in a construction zone, you may have multiple options for recovering compensation. First, you can file for worker’s compensation if you were hurt on the job, which should cover at least part of your salary and medical bills while you’re unable to work.
Second, even if you file a worker’s compensation claim, you can still file a personal injury claim against a third party who caused an accident. That means you have a potential legal claim against a driver who acted negligently while you were working in a construction zone. Typically, you would file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. If the accident was caused by reckless driving, you may be able to recover punitive damages well above the driver’s liability policy limits.
What if a Driver is Injured by a Road Condition in the Construction Zone?
While some construction zone accidents are caused by another driver’s negligence, others can be caused by dangerous road conditions or other hazards within the construction zone. Some examples include warning signs that are improper or missing, cracked or damaged asphalt, faded lane markings, missing guardrails, construction vehicles obstructing the roadway, and narrow or inadequate shoulders.
If your accident was caused by a road defect or other hazard in a construction zone, you may need to file your claim against a government entity—the city or state/federal department of transportation responsible for maintaining the roadway. In Georgia, there are special statutes of limitations (deadlines) that apply to claims against government entities.
The deadline for filing a personal injury claim against the city is 6 months after the accident; if the claim is against the state, it’s approximately 1 year after the accident. If your accident happened on an interstate or other federal road, you must file an administrative claim within 2 years, and if your claim is denied, you must file a legal claim within 6 months of the denial. Keep in mind that government entities may have limited liability because they often have broad immunity against legal claims.
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Does the Law Work Differently if the Accident Doesn’t Involve a Construction Vehicle or Worker?
If you were involved in a crash with another driver in a construction zone—not involving a construction vehicle or worker—the claims process works much the same way as in a standard car accident case. You or your attorney would gather all the necessary documentation and file a claim to recover your damages against the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier.
Recovering compensation may be more complicated, however, because of the unique circumstances that can exist in construction zone accidents. For example, there are special laws governing construction zones, and drivers have a duty to exercise greater care when passing through them. If the driver who hit you was speeding, not obeying signs and signals, or violating some other law, it may be easier to prove they were negligent or even reckless.
On the other hand, if there is evidence that you were not following the posted speed limit or otherwise exercising proper caution, it may be easier for the other driver to prove you were at least partially at fault. If the other driver can show your negligence contributed to the accident, your compensation can be reduced or even denied.
In addition, the other driver may be able to argue that there were road conditions or other hazards in the construction zone that caused or contributed to the accident. If successful, this argument could reduce the other driver’s liability and make it necessary for you to file a claim against the government entity responsible for maintaining the construction zone.
Possible Evidence at Construction Zone Accident Scenes
As in any injury case, the key to proving a construction zone accident claim is gathering and presenting strong evidence that shows what happened. Typically, this evidence includes police reports, 911 calls, eyewitness statements, driver statements, photos, and videos. In addition, the victim needs medical bills, vehicle damage reports, and other records to prove the total cost of the accident.
When the accident takes place in a construction zone, there is often more evidence available that can help prove fault for several reasons. First, construction zones may have many more witnesses when workers are present. Second, traffic usually moves at a slower pace so that other drivers may have a better chance of seeing what happened. Third, police officers are sometimes present at construction zones, which makes it more likely that they can give a reliable, firsthand account of the events in a police report. Finally, construction zones sometimes have video cameras that can capture crucial footage of the accident or the circumstances leading up to it.
How Settlements Work for Construction Zone Accidents
Most accident claims, including those that involve construction zones, settle out of court. Typically, your attorney will submit documentation that shows liability and damages to the at-fault party’s insurance carrier in the form of a demand letter. The carrier is required to respond to the demand in a reasonable time frame and must pay compensation for a valid claim up to the policy limit.
If your accident took place in a construction zone, the settlement process works the same way, though the amount of compensation owed may be much greater because reckless driving is more likely to be a factor. When workers are hit by cars, the damages may also be much more costly than in an accident involving two vehicles.
If the carrier refuses to exhaust the policy to settle a large claim, you may need to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Even if the carrier does offer a settlement that exhausts the policy, however, it may not fully cover your claim, especially if the case involves punitive damages for reckless driving. In that situation, your attorney would need to sue the driver to recover the remaining amount.
Call The Millar Law Firm for a Free Consultation
If you are a worker or driver who was injured in a construction zone accident, you should talk to an experienced attorney before accepting any settlement offer from the insurance company. Our
lawyers go to work immediately to investigate the accident and help you recover the full value of your claim. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.