How Traffic Tickets May Impact Your Georgia Car Accident Injury Case?

In Georgia, how a traffic ticket was handled after a car accident can help win your personal injury case. Learn more in this legal guide by The Millar Law Firm.

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.

It can be easy to assume that whoever is given a traffic citation after an automobile crash automatically loses an accident case or claim. However, the officer who issued the ticket usually did not witness the accident. Therefore, in many Georgia injury cases, what happens to the ticket later can be more important than whether a citation was issued.

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

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. For example, if a driver pays their ticket or mails the fine to the Court, this is considered a guilty plea, and can be used as an admission of fault in a personal injury car accident case.

I was in an accident, but no one got a ticket. How is it determined who was at fault? 

Determining fault is not always easy, and a lack of citations can make it even more challenging. However, other factors can help determine who was at fault, such as how the accident occurred, the police report narrative, witness testimony, and statements from both drivers. 

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How does a police investigation help your case?

Police officers, GSP troopers or deputies are trained to investigate car accidents by interviewing the drivers and witnesses and surveying the accident scene. Most police reports will include a summary of important information, such as the time of the crash, the weather conditions, contributing factors, and statements made by the drivers, passengers and witnesses.

The police report is often relied upon as primary evidence by insurance adjusters in deciding whether to pay your injury claim. Additionally, the police report preserves information that can be used by you and your lawyers to reconstruct the collision later or locate and interview eyewitnesses.

Additionally, although not legally conclusive, police officers often form an opinion about whether any laws were broken. If so, the office will cite the driver or drivers that the officer believes broke the law. Many at-fault drivers do not fight the officer’s opinion, and will admit to causing the collision.

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.

Is a police officer’s opinion admissible in Court?

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.

Under Georgia’s rules of evidence, unless an officer witnessed the crash or moving violation, the police officer’s opinion about who is at fault is generally not admissible. The police 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:

  1. Acrobatic or Fancy Riding – O.C.G.A. 40-6-311Motorcycles or vehicles trying to pull off stunts or tricks to get attention.
  2. Broken Windshield or Visor – O.C.G.A. 40-8-73. A broken windshield or visor can block a driver’s vision causing a car accident.
  3. Crossing Center Line or Median – O.C.G.A. 40-6-50For head on collisions typically one of the drivers is responsible for this.
  4. Improper U‐TURN – O.C.G.A. 40-6-121Illegal U-turns oftentimes cause accidents.
  5. Speeding – O.C.G.A. 40-6-181How can we forget speeding? It’s common for someone to be speeding during a fatal accident.
  6. Defective Equipment – O.C.G.A. 40-8-7. Broken lights, or equipment can sometimes result in a traffic accident.
  7. Discharging Passengers on a Highway – O.C.G.A. 40-6-203. Otherwise known as stopping traffic to pick up or drop off passengers.
  8. Disregarding Railroad Crossing Barrier– O.C.G.A. 40-6-142:  Cars that get hit by trains usually are accused of breaking this law.
  9. Following Too Closely – O.C.G.A. 40-6-49.  It is against the law to follow another car, truck or motorcycle at a distance making it difficult or impossible to stop.  This is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents.
  10. Impeding the Free Flow of Traffic – O.C.G.A. 40-6-184. Going far below the speed limit can cause an accident.
  11. Improper Backing – O.C.G.A. 40-6-240.  Accidents happen all of the time with drivers going into reverse.
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
Incident report investigation

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 Jonesboro car accident lawyers.

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