Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Car Accident Compensation in Georgia (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)
Types of Compensation
- Interference with normal living: Interference with normal living, sometimes called loss of quality of life, goes beyond physical or emotional pain and suffering. You may be compensated if, due to the accident, you can no longer participate in the normal activities you once enjoyed. For example, you may no longer be able to participate in sports you used to play regularly, walk up a flight of stairs, or have sexual relations. If the accident resulted in a physical deformity, that can cause distress and impact your social life.
- Current medical expenses: Current medical expenses are those you have accrued up to the time you file a lawsuit or signed a settlement agreement. They include everything related to your medical care including doctor visits, hospitalization, therapy, medical equipment such as a wheelchair or crutches, and prescription drugs. All of these bills must be well-documented.
- Future medical expenses: You must file your lawsuit within the time the Georgia statute of limitations gives you, which for personal injury is usually two years from the time of the accident under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. However, if you were severely injured in the collision, you may have medical expenses far beyond two years. You may even have them for the rest of your life.Because there are a lot of unknowns, it can be a challenge to calculate future medical expenses caused by the car accident. Costs of medical care could, and probably will, increase. Your condition could get worse, requiring different or more frequent medical treatments. This is an area where the insurance company is unlikely to offer what you deserve, so you may want to consult with an experienced attorney who can use information from your doctors to calculate fair compensation for your future medical expenses. Once you sign a settlement agreement, there is no going back, even if you have health problems years later.
- Lost wages: If you are in a serious auto collision, you will likely lose days of work. You may not be paid for those days, or you may be forced to take sick days or vacation days. You can be compensated for the time that you had to miss and your sick days and vacation days.
- Loss of earning capacity: A serious motor vehicle accident could leave you with medical problems that make it difficult to do certain jobs. Some injuries make it impossible to return to work at all. If that happens, you can still collect damages for loss of earning capacity. The damages are not for specific lost wages that you can document, but for losing the capacity to earn.
- Pain and suffering. If the accident causes you pain over time, you can be compensated. Georgia law allows compensation for past and future pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: Under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1, you may be able to collect punitive damages in addition to damages that cover your losses. Georgia law says that a court can only impose punitive damages if your attorney can prove “by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” That is legal jargon, of course. One judge put it this way. “You may impose punitive damages,” he told the jury, “if you find that the defendant just did not give a damn.”
- Property damage: You can, of course, sue for damage to your car and any other property. Unlike the short two year limit you have to sue for personal injury, you usually have four years to sue for property damage.
What Your Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Must Prove
Before you can collect anything, you must be able to prove the critical elements of your case. Negligence is the most common cause of automobile collisions. To demonstrate the other driver was negligent and responsible for your injuries, your attorney must show the following:
- The defendant had a duty of reasonable care. Georgia laws require drivers to obey traffic regulations and not drive in a manner that would endanger others. Everyone driving in Georgia has a duty of reasonable care towards others.
- The defendant breached their duty of reasonable care. Violating a traffic law is proof of breaching a duty of reasonable care. For example, if the defendant ran a red light or crossed over the line into oncoming traffic and hit your vehicle, they breached their duty of reasonable care.
- The actions of the defendant caused your injuries. The defendant running a red light is not enough for you to recover compensation. You must show that their action caused the accident and your injuries.
- You suffered harm. No matter how wrong the other driver was, if you have no injuries, you have no personal injury case. You and your lawyer need to prove that the accident caused injuries.
Amount of Compensation
If you were entirely without blame for the car accident, then you are entitled to 100% of the compensation for your losses and possibly punitive damages. However, as a practical matter, being entitled to compensation is not the same as being able to collect it. For example, if your medical expenses amount to $200,000 but the defendant only has the minimum required insurance of $25,000 per person per accident, you may never be able to collect more than $25,000. You can sue the person directly, but as the saying goes, “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”
Sometimes, the parties share the fault for the accident. Georgia follows a modified comparative fault rule meaning that:
- Your compensation will be decreased by the percentage you were at fault for the accident. If you were 15% at fault, then your compensation will be reduced by 15%. Insurance companies are well aware of this when making settlement offers. For example, if someone ran a red light and hit your car, but you were texting and driving over the speed limit at the time, you might be held partially responsible.
- If you are more than 50% responsible, you may not collect any compensation.
Beyond who is at fault for the accident, the most critical element in the amount of personal injury compensation you receive is the seriousness of your injuries and how long it takes to recover. Juries expect serious injuries to be well-compensated. Insurance companies know this and will take consider it when making an offer, though you still can’t expect their first offer to cover all your losses.
Protect Your Future
This is just a very brief summary of the compensation you may be able to collect following a car accident in Georgia. If you are the victim of a serious collision, it can affect your life for a very long time. It’s essential that you take action within the time limit required by law (usually two years for personal injuries), so you don’t lose all your rights to be compensated for your losses. It’s equally important that you consider all the losses you have suffered and are likely to suffer in the future. It makes sense to turn to a professional Atlanta personal injury lawyer who has the experience to fight the insurance companies on your behalf, and take your case to court if necessary.