How Georgia Contributory Negligence Law Works in Car Accidents

KEY POINTS

  • Under Georgia State law negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to minimize the risk of hurting others.
  • Georgia uses Contributory Negligence to potentially reduce the amount of a car accident case verdict by the victim’s percentage of fault.
  • In Georgia Modified Comparative Fault means that unless the injury claimant was less than 50% at fault in causing an accident, he or she loses.

What are Georgia’s Contributory and Comparative Negligence Laws?

Human beings make mistakes all the time.  Often we call this negligence.  Under Georgia State law, O.C.G.A. 51-12-33 negligence is defined as the failure to exercise ordinary care or the care that a reasonable person would use under the circumstances to minimize the risk of injuring other persons.

In the case of car accidents, it often happens that one driver is not totally at fault for the collision. Other drivers often contribute to the accident as well. This is where contributory and comparative negligence laws apply.   According to the State of Georgia’s contributory and comparative negligence laws, your right to be compensated for your injuries may be controlled by the degree to which each driver was negligent – including you.

In this article we will explain how Georgia’s laws of Contributory Negligence and Comparative Fault apply when dealing with a car accident case.   In other words, we will explain how the law in Georgia applies if both drivers, or more than one driver, share some of the blame.

How Does Contributory Negligence Apply In a Georgia Car Accident?

What happens if and when both drivers are partly at fault and both contributed to causing an accident?  Georgia’s contributory negligence law says that 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 (Plaintiff) and reduce the monetary award of damages by that amount.

For example, lets 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 $100,000.00.  But, if the Jury also finds that you were 30% at fault for speeding at the time of the crash, the Judge would reduce the Verdict award to $70,000.00.

In Georgia, what does the term ‘Modified Comparative Fault’ mean?

In addition, the law in Georgia also applies a legal Rule known as ‘Modified Comparative Fault,” see O.C.G.A. 51-12-33(g) in personal injury lawsuits.  What modified comparative fault means is that the person bringing the injury claim may only recover damages if the Court or Jury finds that he or she is less than 50% at-fault.  For example, if two drivers were each claiming to have a green traffic light, and were blaming each other, and the Jury were to find both 50% at-fault, the plaintiff ‘loses’ and cannot recover damages.

The police or insurance adjuster say both drivers are partly at fault for the car wreck that hurt me – what now?

Just because the police officer or an insurance adjuster has the opinion that you are partly to blame for a car accident – don’t give up.  You may well still have a case.  And, remember, at an early stage in your case, these are just opinions.  The police officer may not have witnessed the crash and the insurance adjuster for the other driver most definitely did not see what happened.  Thorough investigation may prove that the accident was entirely the other driver’s fault, and even if it was partly your fault you may be entitled to be compensated.  Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. 51-11-7  just because you may have in some way contributed to the accident or injury you sustained, the defendant is not excused from paying his or her fair share.

What things might reduce a damages award in a Georgia car accident injury case?

The at-fault driver or his insurance company may argue that certain things you did, or failed to do, contributed to or caused the collision.  Common defenses, often these are excuses to shift blame to the victim, are that you ran a stop sign or red light, that you failed to use a turn signal, that you did not have your headlights turned on at dusk, or that you were speeding.

If the other driver can successfully convince a Court or Jury that you were partly to blame for the wreck, your damages may be reduced.  If you were less than half at fault, your damages will be reduced in proportion to the blame assigned to you.  If you were hale or more than half at fault, then under Georgia law you cannot recover any damages at all.

If you are being blamed, how can you prove that you were not at-fault?

Often the police report will contain a description of what happened, the names of witnesses and statements made by both drivers and passengers.  You may want to request telephone call recordings from the local 911 communications center, as eyewitnesses frequently call to report what they saw.  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.

Does Georgia’s comparative negligence system always apply?

There may be some circumstances in which comparative or contributory negligence is not available to a defendant.  In certain cases involving intentional conduct, contributory negligence may not be available as a defense.

On the other hand, there may also be circumstances in which contributory negligence seems to be harsh or unfair, yet it applies anyway.  For instance, what happens if you fail to yield to an oncoming car, but it turns out the driver was intoxicated?  It is possible that a drunk driver may be able to blame you, if the accident was partly your fault.  Fortunately, such instances are rare, but in such cases you must be prepared for the defense to be raised.

In Georgia is apportionment of damages part of comparative or contributory negligence?

Yes.  You may have heard the term apportionment of damages.  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 persons who are at fault, or liable, by the percentage each person is determined to be at fault.  O.C.G.A.  51-12-33.

You could and probably should interview several lawyers. This can be done in the free initial case evaluation most PI lawyers offer. This exercise will give you the benefit of knowing how ‘solid’ your case is. It will also help you to see whether or not the law firm has the resources necessary to work your claim to its most positive result. There are many unseen details in the course of generating a settlement and it takes a team of dedicated legal experts to make it happen well.

Examples of cases where contributory or comparative negligence applies:

  • A driver turns left in front of an oncoming speeding motorcycle.
  • At dusk, a pick-up truck driver turns left in front of an oncoming car that had not turned its headlights on.
  • The at-fault driver was making an illegal U-turn, but was hit by a driver passing in the wrong lane.

If you or someone you love has been hurt in an automobile accident and you think contributory negligence may apply, you owe it to yourself to at least discuss the matter with a qualified attorney

At the Millar Law Firm, we offer you an initial consultation at no charge. With our car accident law offices in Atlanta and our experienced automobile injury attorneys in South Atlanta, we have over 25 continuous years of practice and experience in the personal injury field.  We are here to give you the advice you need to make handling your accident claim easier and more effective. For your free case review, call us today at 770-400-0000.

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