Does Georgia Follow Comparative Negligence?
Yes – Georgia is a modified comparative negligence state. To put it simply, you can still recover compensation if you share some of the blame for an accident, but you cannot recover damages if you are primarily responsible for your injuries.
Comparative Negligence vs Contributory Negligence
Before we dive into Georgia’s specific approach to comparative negligence, it’s important to understand the difference between contributory and comparative negligence.
Contributory negligence, which was the traditional standard in most states, bars plaintiffs from recovering any damages if they are found to be even 1% at fault for their injuries. This strict approach often left injured parties with no recourse, even if the majority of the fault lay with the other party.
Comparative negligence, on the other hand, allows plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are partially at fault for their injuries. There are two types of comparative negligence: pure and modified.
Pure comparative negligence states allow plaintiffs to recover damages no matter the percentage of fault assigned to them. Modified comparative negligence states, like Georgia, have a threshold that must be met – typically 50% or 51% – in order for plaintiffs to recover damages.
Who Decides on Fault in Georgia?
The first decision-makers are the insurance adjusters. In every type of auto accident, insurance adjusters will look at the situation and decide who is liable and how liable they are.
When it’s just a matter of vehicle damage, and one driver is accepting blame, the insurance adjuster’s job is easy. In fact, most of the decision-making is in the hands of a body shop worker who assesses the damage and tells the insurance company how much it will cost to repair.
Auto accidents with injuries are more complicated. If neither driver is admitting fault, adjusters may review law enforcement reports or examine evidence to determine who was at fault. The allegedly at-fault driver’s insurance company will be looking for evidence that suggests the other driver shares most or some of the blame.
Comparative negligence is essentially a defense strategy. The more the insurance company can shift the blame onto you, the less compensation they must pay. If they can make the case that you are more than half at fault, you’ll get nothing.
Every bit of comparative negligence they can prove is money they can save, which is why they’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to prove you share at least some of the blame.
Georgia Comparative Negligence Laws
If the plaintiff, by ordinary care, could have avoided the consequences to himself caused by the defendant’s negligence, he is not entitled to recover. In other cases, the defendant is not relieved, although the plaintiff may in some way have contributed to the injury sustained.
To put it plainly, people are responsible for their safety. If you fail to do the normal things you need to do to avoid injuries, you are responsible for your injuries. However, just because you share some responsibility for your injuries doesn’t mean the defendant is entirely off the hook. If they contributed to your injuries, they should still be held responsible.
Do Juries Play a Role in Comparative Negligence Determinations?
If your case goes to trial, yes, the jury does decide. These rules are detailed in Georgia Code Section 51-12-33. There are a couple of important things to keep in mind:
- If the jury decides the defendant wasn’t at fault or you were more than 50 percent at fault, the case is over
- If the jury decides in your favor, they will decide what percentage of fault you share–if any
According to statutes, the judge then “Shall reduce the amount of damages otherwise awarded to the plaintiff in proportion to his or her percentage of fault.”
The section also says, “The plaintiff shall not be entitled to receive any damages if the plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible for the injury or damages claimed.”
If you’re injured in an auto accident, and you’re found to be 51 percent at fault, you’ll be entitled to no compensation, even if the other driver was 49 percent at fault.
How Could Comparative Negligence Affect My Case?
How hard the insurance company fights your claim often depends on the size of your claim or, in some cases, the precedent it could set for future plaintiffs.
Smaller claims generally represent less important losses to the insurance company. If the other driver in your auto accident only has minimum coverage, and you were the only person injured, the insurance company can only lose $25,000. Insurance companies don’t like losing any money, but $25,000 is a lot less than a million dollars.
If your claim is against a company that has a multi-million-dollar liability policy, and your damages are going to cost the insurance company several million dollars, they have a much more compelling reason to fight you.
Even if the details of your case make it fairly clear that the other party was at fault, it may still be worth the insurance company’s time to pursue a comparative negligence defense. For example, if your claim is worth $1,000,000 and the insurance company’s lawyers prove you were 10 percent at fault, the insurance company will save $100,000. That’s a lot of money, even for the insurance company.
Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyers Who Will Fight for You
The personal injury attorneys at the Dressie Law Firm understand how important claim settlements are for injured people and their families. We’ll fight hard to maximize your claim settlement or jury verdict so you can get the compensation you need to make as full a recovery as possible.
We are knowledgeable in Georgia law and have extensive experience negotiating with insurance companies and fighting for our clients in court.
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident and need legal representation, call us at (678) 619-2977 for a free, no-obligation consultation. We’ll review your case, explain your options, and help you determine the best course of action for moving forward.