In many instances, victims in an automobile accident can easily determine which driver is at fault. But what about those instances when it is too difficult to tell who bears responsibility, or when the victim in an accident also contributed, in some way, to the accident itself? Can a party to a car accident still prevail in court under such circumstances?
The personal injury attorneys at Goldstein and Hayes, P.C., can answer your questions and assess your case. Read the following guidelines on negligence in car accidents, and contact us today to file a claim for compensation.
Contributory Negligence–The Old Rule
Most automobile accidents–and other types of personal injury cases–rest on a legal theory called negligence. Under this theory, an automobile operator is liable for damages caused by his or her breach of a legal duty. For example, this legal duty requires automobile operators to follow the laws of the road and act as reasonably prudent drivers. Thus, if a driver fails to follow their duty to stop at a red light, and this failure to stop results in a car accident, the driver is legally responsible to pay damages to any injured party.
Historically, the law allowed certain defenses to liability. One of these defenses is called contributory negligence. This defense holds that if the victim in a car accident was also negligent (e.g., that the victim had breached a legal duty), then the victim could not sue for damages. In short, this defense barred any party whose actions had contributed to the accident from suing.
Comparative Negligence–The New Rule
Many states, including Georgia, have replaced the old contributory negligence defense with something called comparative negligence. Under a comparative negligence scheme, each party in an accident is liable for damages only in the proportion to which that party contributed to the accident. For example, imagine a car accident where the first party ran a red light while the second party was speeding through an intersection. The total damages in the accident, including property damages and doctor bills, total $100,000. Under a comparative negligence scheme, each party would be liable for that portion of the total damages attributed to their action. Thus, if the first party was found to be sixty percent at fault, and the second party was found to be forty percent at fault, the second party could only recover 60 percent or $60,000 from the first party. In this way, comparative negligence attempts to provide a fairer recovery to those who have suffered injury but contributed to their accident.
Determining The Percentage of Fault
In Georgia courts, the responsibility of determining the percentage of fault attributable to each party in an accident rests with the trier of fact–in most instances the jury. Thus, in a trial, the jury will weigh the evidence and actions of every party and select a percentage based on its appraisal of relative fault.
Less Than Half
One quirk of the comparative fault scheme in Georgia is that in order for a plaintiff to recover damages under a comparative fault scheme, the plaintiff must be responsible for less than fifty percent of his or her injuries. If the jury determines that the plaintiff is fifty percent or more responsible for those injuries, the plaintiff will receive no recovery for their injuries from the defendant.