Can I File a Car Accident Claim in Georgia If I was Partly At-Fault?

KEY POINTS:

  • Georgia uses comparative negligence to determine each driver’s percentage of fault and, therefore, how much their compensation may be decreased.
  • Georgia’s law of comparative negligence is sometimes used by lawyers and adjusters when negotiating the amount of personal injury settlements.
  • Modified Comparative Fault states that unless the injury claimant was less than 50% at fault in causing an accident, they are not entitled to compensation.
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What Is Comparative Negligence?

When it comes to car accidents, it’s not always one driver who is totally to blame. Sometimes, multiple drivers may have been partially negligent and contributed to the accident. In these instances, Georgia law uses comparative negligence to determine each driver’s percentage of fault. 

If an accident victim’s actions contributed to their own injuries, then comparative negligence may affect the amount of money recovered in a personal injury or wrongful death claim or lawsuit.

According to Georgia’s Modified Comparative Fault law, a person who is injured in a car accident can recover monetary damages as long as a Court or Jury finds that the person claiming injury was no more than 49% at-fault in causing the collision or other incident. If the injured person is found to be 50% or more responsible, then the person cannot recover monetary damages.

How Does Comparative Negligence Apply in a Georgia Car Accident Case?

In a personal injury case, if the plaintiff (or “victim”) is partially at fault for causing the accident, the Court or Jury will determine how much of the wreck was the plaintiff’s fault. After a Verdict, the Judge will apply the percentage of fault assigned to the victim and reduce the monetary award of damages by that amount.

For example, let’s say that a Jury finds in your favor because the at-fault defendant driver pulled out in front of you, and you receive a verdict in the amount of $100,000. But the Jury also finds you were 30% at fault because you were speeding at the time of the crash. In this case, the Judge would reduce the Verdict, and award you only $70,000 (or 30% less than the total award).

Comparative Negligence vs. Strict Contributory Negligence

While Georgia is among the states that apply the standard of comparative negligence, others, including Alabama, Virginia, and North Carolina, follow a strict or “pure” contributory negligence standard. This rule states that injured motorists are barred from collecting any compensation if they are even 1% at fault for the accident.

That standard is very unfriendly to accident victims, and, fortunately, most states no longer use it.

How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Settlement Negotiations?

Because most Georgia personal injury lawyers and insurance adjusters attempt to reach a negotiated settlement before filing suit or going to trial, settlement negotiations sometimes take comparative negligence into account.

An insurance adjuster may offer less than full value on a case, arguing that there should be some reduction based on the victim’s comparative negligence. However, the job of a car accident attorney is to determine whether such a reduction is justified or to push back and demand that the insurance adjuster offer more settlement money.

What Is ‘Failure to Avoid the Consequences of the At-Fault Driver’s Negligence’?

Georgia statute 51-11-7  states that if a victim could have avoided the consequences of the accident by the use of ordinary care, even if the defendant was negligent, then the victim may not recover damages. For instance, if an accident victim could have stopped or turned to avoid hitting another driver who was doing something negligent, the victim may not recover monetary damages.

How Can You Prove You Were Not At Fault?

To prove you were not at fault for an accident, you will need to obtain as much evidence as possible to help draw a picture of what happened before and during the crash.

Oftentimes, a good place to start is to request any recordings of the 911 calls made by involved drivers or eyewitnesses. These recordings can provide real-time accounts of what happened.  

In addition, if a police officer responds to the scene, they write a police accident report, which will contain a description of the crash, the names of witnesses, and statements made by both drivers and passengers. You have a right to access this report by requesting it from the responding department.

Electronic data can also be recovered from some vehicles by experts. This data can show information such as the speed, braking, and turning of the car in the seconds before and up to the moment of the collision.

These types of evidence can help describe what ultimately led to the accident, which may help prove you were not to blame.

What Does It Mean When an Insurance Company Says ‘I Assumed the Risk of Injury’?

In some cases, an insurance adjuster may argue that a driver is not entitled to recover any damages due to an “assumption of risk.” However, this only applies when the victim knew of a specific danger, accepted the risks of that danger, and voluntarily placed themselves in danger.

An example would be a driver illegally street racing, then trying to claim damages when things went catastrophically wrong. However, drivers generally do not assume the risk of injury simply by driving their car or riding as a passenger, without knowing that something’s about to happen.

What Is ‘Apportionment of Damages’ in Comparative Negligence?

In dealing with comparative negligence, apportionment is the statutory term used to describe the percentage by which the Court will reduce an award of damages if you are found to be partly, but less than 50%, to blame. Georgia uses apportionment to divide the award of damages among the people who are liable by the percentage each person is determined to be at fault.  O.C.G.A.  51-12-33.

Examples of cases where comparative negligence applies:

Here are a few examples of how comparative negligence may apply to a car accident.

  • A driver turns left in front of an oncoming motorcycle that happened to be speeding. Both drivers are at fault, but one is more to blame than the other.
  • At dusk, a pick-up truck driver turns left in front of an oncoming car with no headlights on.
  • An at-fault driver was making an illegal U-turn but was hit by a driver passing in the wrong lane.
  • A driver sees a person illegally jaywalking and does not slow down, thinking that they can simply drive around them, but ends up hitting the pedestrian.
  • The at-fault driver blows through a traffic light, but the other driver was distracted by a cell phone and did not see the car coming.

Let’s say the victims in the examples above were awarded a verdict of $50,000, but they were found 10% at fault. In this case, the Court would reduce the award by 10%, or $5,000, meaning the victims would only receive $45,000.

Maximizing your recovery under Georgia’s Comparative Negligence Law After an Accident

Insurance companies and defense lawyers will often try to reduce your damages award by arguing you were partly to blame for your accident. Therefore, hiring a personal injury lawyer who specializes in motor vehicle accidents can help.

Attorneys who regularly handle car, truck, and motorcycle accident cases will immediately look for ways to defeat comparative negligence arguments. During settlement negotiations or mediation, your injury lawyer can push back against efforts by the insurance company to try to unfairly use comparative negligence to offer less money.

- D. Lo
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