When you or your loved one suffers an injury, you want to do everything in your power to prove the at-fault party was negligent. However, often those injured don’t understand the definition of negligence under Georgia law – let alone proving fault.
Many want to better understand how the system works and determine if their case involves negligence. Fortunately, we’ve put together the following explanation, which we call, “Negligence 101.”
Negligence is the most common basis for personal injury lawsuits. It occurs when someone acts carelessly (or negligently). This then results in injury or property damage and destruction.
The Elements of Negligence
A personal injury lawsuit isn’t always straightforward. There are four elements required in order to prove negligence. These include duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
Did the other party owe you a legal obligation? This is the first question that needs to be answered in order to prove whether there was a relationship between the two parties. This could result in the defendant (the other party) owing a “duty of care” to the plaintiff (you).
As an example, the rules of the road dictate that drivers owe one another a duty to keep a safe distance between their cars. In another instance, a property manager must keep their premises free of any hazards.
Breach of Duty
A defendant exhibits negligence when they breach the duty that they owe to the plaintiff. In failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling their duty, the defendant breaches the duty.
By using the first example, the driver might be texting and driving and fail to maintain a safe distance between their car and your car ahead. In reference to the second example, the property manager might not clean up a spill right away.
For this element, we need to link the other party’s breach of duty to the accident and your resulting injuries. Georgia law recognizes two types of causation:
- Cause in fact: A plaintiff must prove that, due to the defendant’s actions, the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Often, we employ the “but for” test – “but for” the defendant’s negligent acts, the plaintiff would not have been injured.
- Proximate cause: The responsibility lies only for those “harms” that the defendant could have foreseen through his or her actions. Anything outside the scope is not the responsibility of the defendant. Such a detail could include an injury that happens in a separate instance to the plaintiff.
Lastly, a plaintiff in a negligence case must prove a “legally” recognized harm, which is shown through economic and non-damages. Examples of damages you might suffer in an accident include:
- Past and anticipated medical bills
- Lost wages, benefits, or commissions
- Future lost earning potential
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Wrongful death
While seemingly straightforward, all these elements are required in order to lay the groundwork for a negligence claim.
Some states limit how much a plaintiff can receive in non-economic damages for an incident that causes injury. However, Georgia no longer has damage caps for personal injury lawsuits. That means you can work with your personal injury attorney to calculate all economic and non-economic losses, leaving no stone unturned for disregarded damages.
At-Fault vs. No-Fault States
Georgia is a fault state, also known as an at-fault state. That means a person who breaches their duty of care to another can be held liable for compensating the injured party’s damages.
This rule is often applied to vehicle accidents where the negligent party’s insurance company would be responsible for paying damages to the injured party. However, it’s important to note that punitive damages, those required of the negligent party for especially egregious negligence on the road, are not awarded to the injured party. In many cases, punitive damages are not often sought in vehicle accident cases, though they can happen.
A no-fault state, regarding vehicles, is one in which drivers can choose to have a no-fault or at-fault insurance policy. If a driver has an at-fault policy, the procedure for pursuing compensation through this policy is more or less the same.
Contributory Negligence Laws in Georgia
Your actions or lack of action may be evaluated if the other driver or their insurance company claims you contributed to or solely caused the accident. Per Georgia’s contributory negligence laws, if you hold any of the blame for the accident, you may still have the option to collect compensation. That’s because Georgia follows the modified contributory negligence model.
The model enables accident victims found partially at fault for the accident to still recover compensation as long as they’re less than 50% at fault. However, according to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33, your damages would be reduced based on how much fault you hold.
For instance, if you are found to be 25% to blame for the accident, you would receive 75% of your total compensatory award. Your lawyer can demonstrate that you exhibited little to no negligence. This way, you could obtain the settlement or verdict you need to get your life back on track.
Assumption of Risk Doctrine
In addition, O.C.G.A. § 5-11-7 provides Georgia’s assumption of risk doctrine that prevents a plaintiff from recovering compensation if they “had actual knowledge of the danger, understood and appreciated the risks associated with such danger, and voluntarily exposed [themselves] to those risks.
However, there are some special circumstances in which this may not apply to a case. Our attorney can review the precedents with you to determine how contributory negligence impacts your case.
We Only Have a Limited Amount of Time to Recover Compensation
After we establish the other party’s negligence and calculate your damages, we file a claim with their insurer. We can typically settle your case without going to trial. There are times when we cannot agree on an amount and need to file a lawsuit, though.
Per O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, you usually have two years to file a lawsuit, both for personal injury or wrongful death. If a government agency was negligent and caused the accident, the timeline might be shorter. If the injured person was under the age of 18 at the time of the incident, the statute of limitations’ “clock” may not start “ticking” until that person comes of age. Your lawyer can help you figure out which one applies to your situation.
In any case, complying with this statute of limitations is crucial for your case. So, we recommend contacting our firm as soon as possible. If we try to submit your lawsuit past the deadline, you risk forfeiting your right to compensation.
How to Win a Negligence Case in Georgia
Here are some steps you should take to improve your chances of winning a worthwhile settlement for your personal injury case:
- Gather evidence. Collect photographic or video evidence taken at the scene of the accident right after it happens. Take the photos yourself, have a loved one document the scene, or ask for photos or video to be taken for the incident report. Other evidence you can gather include medical records, documentation of the injuries you sustained, documents of property damage, pay statements showing a loss of income and/or earning capacity, and contact information for any witnesses.
- Don’t provide a statement to the other party, their representatives, or their insurance company. After the incident, avoid speaking to the other party about the incident. If you’re in a car accident, just collect their insurance information. If it’s a representative of that party, like a lawyer or insurance adjuster, do not speak with them and do not sign any paperwork they give you, as this could jeopardize your ability to seek compensation.
- Call a personal injury attorney with experience in cases like yours. Contact a local attorney who’s dealt with insurance companies and legal teams protecting negligent parties like those who caused your accident. The personal injury lawyers at Kaine Law can handle insurance claims, negotiations, and additional evidence gathering for you.
Connect with Kaine Law Today for a Free, No-Obligation Consultation
If you were injured due to negligence, we ask you to contact our office immediately. Do not allow someone else’s action or inaction (leading to your losses) to go unaddressed.
Reach out to one of our team representatives today. Our Atlanta personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis, so there are no upfront or hourly charges involved. Instead, they will take their fee at the end of your case should they secure compensation for you.