Comparative Negligence in Georgia
If you suffered injuries where another person or business was responsible, then you can hire a respected Atlanta personal injury lawyer to bring a lawsuit for your damages. However, if you were partially at fault, then your claim for damages is affected by your own comparative negligence.
Personal injury cases are based on the principals of negligence where a defendant who owed a duty of care breached that duty and caused the injuries. A common example of negligence is found in car accidents. All drivers owe a duty to exercise ordinary care when driving, which includes keeping a proper lookout for other cars and pedestrians and obeying the traffic laws. A driver breaches that duty when he crashes into another car because he drove recklessly, violated a traffic law such as making an unsafe turn or lane change, or rear-ended a stopped vehicle at a red traffic signal. If the accident was the legal or “proximate cause” of the victim’s injuries, then a personal injury lawyer can sue the at-fault driver and pursue a case against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
However, sometimes fault or responsibility for the accident may be apportioned between the defendant(s) and the injured victim. This is referred to as comparative negligence.
Georgia is a modified comparative negligence state. You can recover damages for your injuries from the responsible party or parties even if you were partially at fault so long as your percentage of fault does not equal or exceed that of the other party, or it does not exceed the proportion of fault of all other parties combined. Further, the damages awarded will be reduced by your percentage of responsibility. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33.
Under Georgia law, if a jury determines that you were 49% at fault, then you can collect compensation equal to 51% of the damages. For instance, if your damages were $100,000, your award would be reduced to $51,000. You would not collect anything if you are equally, or 50% at fault. An example is if you and the other driver are in an accident where you both failed to stop at stop signs, or both entered an intersection at the same time you may be found partially responsible.
Other states have different comparative negligence laws. For instance, California is a pure comparative negligence state where you can be 99% at fault in an accident but still recover 1% of your damages. There are only 4 states that retain pure contributory negligence laws where any percentage of fault on your part, even 1%, will bar you from any recovery.
Examples of Comparative Negligence
There are numerous examples of comparative negligence where an injured victim may not recover damages in a Georgia courtroom:
- Party A sees party B approaching from his left at a high rate of speed at an uncontrolled intersection but decides to make a left turn anyway and strikes party B. Both are comparatively negligent, but party A is more at fault for causing the accident.
- A pedestrian decides to cross in the middle of the street and not at the crosswalk where she is required to cross. A car speeding on the roadway sees the pedestrian dart out into the street but instead of slowing that would likely have allowed the pedestrian to safely cross, the driver tries to go around the person but strikes her. If a jury decides that the motorist failed to exercise ordinary care by speeding and not slowing, the pedestrian can still recover despite her own negligence in not using the crosswalk.
- A shopper sees that a bottle has broken on the floor and liquid has spilled out. The store owner or staff was told of the spill 30 minutes ago but neglected to clean it up. The shopper can only get to an item he wants by walking on the slippery surface, so he does and slips and falls, breaking his leg. Because the shopper failed to use ordinary care in avoiding the open and obvious danger, his own degree of fault may exceed that of the store owner who had sufficient notice of the spill but failed to clean it or warn shoppers of the danger.
- A passenger gets into a vehicle with an obviously intoxicated driver who drives erratically and crashes the car causing severe injuries to the passenger. A jury could determine that the bar which served the obviously intoxicated driver is 20% at fault and the driver 70%. For knowingly risking his life by getting into the car with an obviously intoxicated driver a jury could also find the passenger was 10% at fault for his own damages.
Talk with an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer who can help you navigate comparative negligence and how to best pursue your case.