How Lawyers Prepare to Prove Your Accident Case
Being in an accident can mean costly medical bills, lost work, and damages to your car among other things. If you’ve been the victim of an accident you probably have already had the misfortune of being faced with these consequences. When the accident is caused by the negligence of another person, you may be able to reclaim your losses under Georgia law. But where do you begin, and what evidence is necessary to prove your claim?
The Building Blocks of an Accident Claim
A car accident claim is constructed from several essential building blocks. Each of these blocks must be firmly in place in order to win a case and receive a settlement.
- Duty of Care – The negligent party (the defendant) must have owed the plaintiff (you) a duty to exercise proper caution. In law this responsibility is called the duty of care.
- Breach of Duty – When the defendant fails to exercise necessary caution and an accident is caused by his negligence, it’s the plaintiff’s duty to prove that the defendant did not meet his duty to drive carefully.
- Causation – The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty was the cause of the accident.
- Damages – The plaintiff, once he’s shown that the defendant is at fault and actually caused the accident, must then provide an accounting of the costs associated with the accident.
Before an attorney ever agrees to take an accident case, he will check to be sure each of these four building blocks is firmly in place. It is upon this structure that he will “flesh out” all the details of the claim so that the court can be sure you are fairly and properly compensated.
Duty of Care
The concept of ‘duty of care’ exists in lots of things beyond careful driving. It can also apply to the homeowner who allows his vicious dog to run free, or the merchant who negligently fails to clean up a spill on the floor before a customer slips and falls. In automobile accidents, we have extra help in the form of a police report which establishes precisely who was primarily at fault and, if there are others who owed a duty of care, to what extent they were responsible.
In some states, if you are even partially at fault, you can be barred from collecting. We are fortunate because, in Georgia, the law recognizes that sometimes in an accident more than just one person can be negligent and partially responsible for damages. For example, maybe you were speeding when the plaintiff ran the stop sign and t-boned you. The good news about this is, in our State, we have a comparative negligence law. As long as you were less than 50 percent at-fault, you can still pursue your claim. You may recover for your damages, but your degree of “blame,” expressed as a percentage, will be subtracted from your ultimate settlement.
Breach of Duty
In automobile accidents, the police report can also help with proving that there was a breach of duty. The investigating officer will determine what caused the accident and whose fault the accident was.
It’s not always that easy. There are other factors that can come into play here. For example, if a faulty braking system caused the accident, the cause of action may be directed against the manufacturer or even the dealership that installed the system. If your accident was caused by a commercial vehicle operated by an employee who had a bad driving record, that bad record can be exposed to prove your claim the employer acted in breach of his duty by employing a bad driver. Your lawyer will be able to do any other legwork necessary to prove any other factors if necessary.
Often lawyers must ferret out information that is not easily located. Fortunately, a good personal injury lawyer will have the resources and staff to do that detective work. Proving breach of duty can mean sifting through old criminal and employment records as well as interviewing many witnesses after a collision, or asking questions of neighbors who might have had an unhappy encounter with the bad dog we mentioned earlier.
In the case of a dog attack one of the key elements is proving that the dog was known to be dangerous. If the animal’s owner knew the dog was dangerous, his duty of care involved restraining the dog. (To complicate matters further, different laws concerning restraining an animal and statutes around animals in general can come into play making it even more important to have a lawyer who knows the laws.)
Other complications to proving causation involve you, the plaintiff. The law expects that you will take care to keep yourself out of harm’s way. If you’re walking in the meat department of your local grocery store and see a puddle of chicken blood on the floor, the law expects you should take care to walk around the puddle. If, on the other hand, the puddle is positioned in a way that it cannot be seen as you approach or could not have been avoided, then the store owner’s negligence in not cleaning the mess up – or at minimum warning you with a “wet floor” sign, points to the causation of your injuries.
Again, Georgia’s comparative negligence rules can come into play here as well so what seems to be causation ‘slam dunk’ can be more challenging. Good personal injury lawyers are equipped and experienced in making these challenges more manageable.
The matter of damages as the result of an accident might seem straightforward. Sometimes it’s fairly simple. A careless driver hit you while you were bicycling to the convenience store on the corner. Your leg is broken. The plaintiff pays the doctor bills and compensates you for the two days you had to stay home from work, and replaces your bike. Case closed.
In other claims, the damages are more complicated and will go on for a longer period of time. When there are fatalities or dismemberments; or if there are permanent disabilities involved, your lawyer must know the law inside-out in order to get you the compensation you deserve.
In some cases, shortly after the accident and while you’re really still in a foggy kind of shock, the insurance adjuster for the plaintiff might swoop in and try to get you to settle the claim. He will make an offer that might look good in your confusion – and very often they manage to get injured parties to sign off and settle a claim even before the doctor has said how long your injuries will take to heal. A plaintiff who settles any claim before at least talking to a lawyer is, most likely, not going to be happy with the settlement in the long run.
First Consultations are Free
Most lawyers offer a free first consultation in order to examine your claim and be certain the case can be successfully proven. Because these appointments are easy to get and you are under no obligation, you owe it to yourself to learn what you can about the viability of your claim.
At the Millar Law Firm, we don’t even take a case until we’ve looked at all the facts. We encourage everyone who may have a claim to take the time to learn their rights and the laws in place to protect them. A good personal injury lawyer is the best place to start.
Call one of our offices today and set an appointment with our legal team to discuss your claim. We have the resources and the staff to put all the four building blocks of an accident claim into place. We are also very experienced in presenting a fully articulated claim – we’ve been in this business for over two decades. We take our job very seriously – we help victims find the just compensation they deserve. Call us today: 770-400-0000