Determining Fault in a Georgia Car Accident
In Georgia car accident cases, fault refers to responsibility for the accident. Sometimes only one driver is responsible. Sometimes two or more drivers share responsibility. On occasion, a third party (such as a city) might bear some responsibility for contributing to an accident.
Determining fault is important because it affects the compensation an injury victim will receive. The initial question is whether someone other than the injury victim was responsible for causing the collision. If the victim’s own carelessness was the sole cause of an accident, the victim cannot bring a successful personal injury claim.
However, when the other driver is entirely responsible for the accident, determining fault is a matter of finding evidence to prove that driver’s negligence. In some cases, fault is disputed. For example, if a head-on collision occurred near the centerline, each driver might say that the other driver crossed the line. Resolving those disputes requires an accident investigation.
In many accidents, fault is shared by at least two drivers. Many intersection accidents could be avoided if both drivers were paying attention. A driver who had the legal duty to yield will generally be more at fault, but the second driver may also be at fault for speeding into the intersection or for failing to notice the first driver was not coming to a stop.
Determining fault begins with an investigation of the facts surrounding the accident. The police officer who responds to the scene of the accident may conduct an investigation if fault is not clear. That investigation may consist of interviewing the drivers, talking to witnesses, taking photographs of the scene and of the cars, sketching the accident scene, and making measurements.
When injuries are serious and the police think a crime other than a simple traffic violation may have been committed, they might follow up with an additional investigation. Larger police departments may have officers who have special training in accident investigations. In addition, the Georgia Department of Public Safety has a Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) that investigates fatal crashes.
Accident victims can contribute to fact-gathering by using their cellphones to take pictures of the accident scene, including the positions of both cars immediately after the accident. Accident victims should also take note of witnesses who may have observed the accident so that they can be interviewed later.
A personal injury lawyer will want to conduct an additional investigation when facts in the police report are unclear or incomplete. The lawyer may send an investigator to the accident scene to measure skid marks and to look for accident debris, gouges in the road, and other evidence that will shed light on where and how the accident occurred. The investigator may also find and interview witnesses. Downloading data from the “black box” in the accident victim’s vehicle can also help the victim prove fault.
In some cases, the accident victim’s lawyer will want to hire an engineer who specializes in accident reconstruction. In any event, the lawyer will want to gather evidence as quickly as possible, before memories fade and marks on the road disappear. For that reason, it is important to contact a Georgia car accident lawyer as soon as possible when a car accident causes an injury.
Comparative Fault in Georgia
Different states have different rules that govern the payment of compensation when two drivers in a car accident are both at fault. The comparative fault rule in Georgia was established by the state legislature. It can be found in section 51-12-33 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.
The rule, known as modified comparative fault, requires the “trier of fact” (typically a jury in car accident cases) to determine the injury victim’s percentage of fault for the accident. For example, a jury might decide that one driver was 25% at fault and the other was 75% at fault.
The comparative fault rule affects a jury’s award of compensation in two ways:
1) If the jury decides that the accident victim is 50% or more at fault, the judge will not award any compensation to the victim, regardless of the amount of compensation that the jury determines is appropriate for the injuries that the victim suffered.
2) If the jury decides that the accident victim is less than 50% at fault, the judge will reduce the compensation determined by the jury in proportion to the victim’s fault. For example, if the jury awarded $100,000 in compensation and found that the victim was 25% at fault for the accident, the judge will reduce the compensation by 25% and give the accident victim a judgment for $75,000.
The Key to Success
The key to success in a Georgia car accident case is to convince a jury to minimize the negligence of the accident victim and to maximize the proportion of fault that is attributable to an insured driver. Lawyers who have a history of convincing juries to return comparative fault verdicts that favor accident victims, obtain better settlements for their clients. The experienced car accident lawyers at Butler Tobin can evaluate your case and explain the likely impact of Georgia’s comparative fault rules on your recovery.