Negligence is the primary legal principle upon which most personal injury claims are built. Negligence is the failure of a person or business to use reasonable care to prevent injury to another. But there is another legal principle that personal injury plaintiffs should understand before filing their claim: Comparative fault.
Modified comparative fault in Georgia allows a jury to apportion a degree of fault to the person who was injured leading to the court to reduce the amount of damages awarded. The idea is that those legally responsible for actions that causes the injury should pay their fair share – but nothing more. A person can be held comparatively at-fault for either causing an accident or exacerbating their own injuries.
If Driver A turns left in front of Driver B at an intersection without the right of way and they cause a crash, Driver A may be deemed legally responsible to cover Driver B’s damages. However, if Driver B was speeding and this contributed to the occurrence of the crash or the severity of resulting injuries, Driver B could also be found liable. If Driver B’s total damages are $100,000, but the jury finds Driver B is 30 percent comparatively liable, the court will reduce Driver B’s total damages to $70,000.
Georgia’s is a modified comparative fault state. This means if the injured party is 50% or more at fault, then they are not entitled to recover. It also means if the injured party is less than 50% percent at fault, then they are entitled to recover damages.
Most states allow for a finding of comparative fault, but they don’t all handle it the same way. For example, some states practice modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar. Others have a system of pure comparative fault, where damages can be proportionately reduced, but a plaintiff who is 99 percent responsible can still collect on that 1 percent in damages. Still, other states practice the pure contributory negligence rule, which prohibits a plaintiff from recovering any damages if they are found to have contributed at all – even just 1 percent.
There is another provision of Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 51-11-7, that says plaintiffs also have a duty to use ordinary care to avoid injury. Failure to do so can result in losing the opportunity to recover any damages. Having an attorney to prove the injury couldn’t have been reasonably avoided can be invaluable in preserving your right to compensation.
Our personal injury lawyers at AA-Legal fight tirelessly on our client’s behalf to eliminate or at least minimize any finding of comparative fault.
Examples of Comparative Fault in Georgia
Comparative fault can be found in most injury cases, including auto accidents, premises liability, dog bites, trucking accidents, and boating accidents. (It’s a less likely defense in nursing home negligence or medical malpractice cases.)
Some examples of comparative fault in Georgia might include:
- A restaurant patron slips and falls on wet flooring. The plaintiff sues the restaurant for premises liability. The defendant, however, argues the plaintiff was partially at fault because he was distracted by his smartphone when he slipped. A jury might find the plaintiff 10 percent at fault and the restaurant 90 percent at fault. If the total damage award is $40,000, the amount the plaintiff actually receives will be $36,000 – the total damage award, minus 10 percent.
- A distracted driver runs a red light and causes a crash, seriously injuring another motorist. The plaintiff files a Georgia car accident lawsuit. Defendant alleges plaintiff was speeding, which contributed to crash causation and severity of plaintiff’s injuries. The jury finds plaintiff is 49 percent liable, with total damages of $500,000. That compensation would be reduced by nearly half, so that plaintiff receives $255,00.
- A driver is struck and killed by a fatigued trucker who fell asleep at the wheel on the highway. His estate files a wrongful death lawsuit against numerous parties, including the driver, carrier and shipping company. Defendants assert the crash wouldn’t have happened if decedent hadn’t been driving drunk at the time of the crash. The jury finds decedent was 51 percent liable for the crash. His estate will not be able to collect damages from the wrongful death claim defendants.
How Can I Limit Liability in a Georgia Injury Lawsuit?
Because a finding of modified comparative fault in Georgia can substantially lower or even eliminate the amount of damages you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit, it’s imperative to hire an Atlanta injury attorney who will work to maximize your chances of full and fair compensation. A good lawyer can do this by working diligently to help you gather evidence, build a strong case and prepare for challenges from insurers and other defendants.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.