How Important Are Traffic Tickets in Your Atlanta or Georgia Car Accident?

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Key Points:

  • In Georgia a traffic ticket or citation is an accusation but not a finding that one driver or another is at fault.
  • Whether a traffic ticket is admissible in a Georgia civil personal injury case usually depends on whether a driver pled guilty to the violation.
  • Under Georgia law, when a driver mails in a fine or pays the ticket without pleading nolo or not-guilty, this is a legal admission to the traffic charge.
  • When a driver makes a legal admission to a traffic violation, a Jury or Court in a civil car accident injury case may hear about the ticket.

Does a traffic ticket determine who wins or loses a Georgia car accident injury case?

Many people assume that whoever is given a traffic citation after an automobile crash automatically loses the accident case or claim. However, in many cases, what happens to the ticket later can be more important than whether a citation was issued. Under Georgia law, a traffic ticket is an accusation but it is not a finding that one driver or the other is at fault. Nor does the ticket itself prove guilt. But, in some circumstances tickets can be both helpful and admissible in an injury case.

Who was ticketed and how the ticket was handled can mean the difference between winning and losing an injury case.

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How do police officers investigate and decide who to ticket?

When police officers arrive at a car accident scene they investigate by interviewing the drivers and witnesses and they examine the evidence at the accident scene. Officers may evaluate the collision and form an opinion about whether any laws were broken. Once they establish what they believe to be the broken laws they will write up traffic tickets to the drivers they believe broke the law.

Graphic: A police report recounts a traffic accident, where the driver of a mid-sized sedan hit a bicyclist in the roadway

Most of the time, the police officer or officers who respond to a crash did not see what happened. In the rare instances where an officer witnessed the collision, he or she may write a ticket based on seeing what happened. In such cases, the police officer can be an eyewitness in traffic court, or later in the personal injury case.

Does the police officer’s opinion decide the case?

Probably not. The fact that someone was ticketed is not the final word. Guilt or innocence must be proven by a plea or the decision of a Judge or Jury. And, unless the officer witnessed the crash or moving violation, the police officer’s opinion about who is at fault is generally not admissible. The officer can only testify about the investigation. For instance, the police officer can testify about what the witnesses said and about the evidence at the accident scene. The officer’s body cam and patrol car recordings can also be used as evidence, and may contain interviews with the drivers and witnesses. Police camera recordings or photographs and measurements may also show the positions of the vehicles and other on-scene evidence.

Is a traffic ticket admissible in my Georgia injury case?

This depends. In Georgia trials of civil injury cases the Jury or Judge decides who is at fault in causing the accident. It is not automatic that the Jury will even hear that one or more tickets were issued. Whether the ticket is admissible may depend on whether there was a guilty plea to the violation.

Graphic: A police officer issues a traffic ticket to the driver of a car

When a person is ticketed, he or she can plead guilty, not guilty or nolo.  A nolo plea means “nolo contendre,” meaning no contest.  Whether there was a guilty plea may determine whether the Jury in a civil case ever learns that any tickets were given.  If a ticketed party simply pays the fine, under Georgia law, this is a legal admission of guilt.  It is the same as if the person appeared in Court and plead guilty directly to a Judge.  When there has been a guilty plea, the traffic citation and violation becomes admissible in a civil injury case.

A driver who has paid their fine or pled guilty in front of a Judge can still argue that it was done just to avoid the inconvenience of appearing in court or going to trial.  However, the ticket is still admissible and the Jury will hear that the ticket was paid and not fought.

What happens if a driver pleads Not Guilty or Nolo Contendre to a ticket?

When a driver pleads not guilty, even if he or she is later found guilty for the violation, the ticket is not admissible in a civil injury lawsuit. It is highly unlikely that a Jury in the injury claim will learn about the ticket. The same thing happens if a driver pleads nolo or “no contest.” This is not an admission of guilt, and the Jury can usually not be told about the ticket.

What if the other driver was ticketed, but is now blaming you?

Has this happened to you? The other driver in your accident gets the ticket, but then that driver or the insurance company tries to blame you for causing the accident! If this has happened to you, the first thing you should try to find out is what happened to the ticket.

For instance, you should find out if the other driver mailed in, or appeared in court, and paid the fine. In the State of Georgia if the at-fault driver pays the ticket and does not enter a not-guilty plea or a nolo plea, this is considered an admission of guilt to the traffic charge. This means that you can use the the fact that the other driver was ticketed and admitted to the traffic violation as evidence that the other driver broke the law and caused your car, truck or motorcycle accident. A guilty plea does not mean you win automatically, but it in most cases it greatly increases your odds.

What happens to a ticket if I do not show up in traffic court?

If you were the person ticketed and you fail to show up in traffic court, a judge can issue a bench warrant for you and your driver’s license is likely to be suspended.  Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 375-3-3-.12.  If you mail in the fine, this should excuse your appearance in Court, but will be considered a legal admission of guilt to the traffic charge.

If another driver was ticketed and you are a witness, even if you were the driver of another car in the wreck, the Court might dismiss the ticket.  This is much more likely to happen if you are the only witness to the wreck, other than the at-fault driver.  You might get lucky and another witness shows up to testify against the cited driver, but do not count on this.   If the ticket is dismissed, it is unlikely that the fact that another driver was cited can be used to help win your injury case.

Laws that are often broken, causing Atlanta and Georgia Car Accidents

Nearly every time that there is a car accident, someone broke a law – even it’s following too closely (tailgating), crossing the center line, failure to yield, or driving too fast for conditions. Other laws may also be broken. Here is a list of some frequent Georgia laws attached to car accidents:

Graphic-Four examples of Georgia Car Accident Laws being broken: a car passing another by crossing in to the oncoming lane, not yielding at a railroad crossing, driving through a crosswalk when other drivers are stopped, driving with a cracked windshield

Traffic tickets can mean the difference between winning and losing an Atlanta Car Accident Case

Citations are not automatically admissible in a civil personal injury case. However, whether someone was ticketed, and especially how they pled to the violation, can have a big influence on the outcome of your case.  Want to learn more?  Contact the personal injury and car accident experts at the Millar Law Firm in Atlanta, or our South Atlanta car accident lawyers.

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