When you’re injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation from the responsible party. For people who have suffered serious injuries, that compensation may be critical to covering medical expenses, replacing lost income, and securing the assistance and supplies necessary to rebuild. But, shared responsibility is more common than you may think in motor vehicle accidents.
Imagine, for example, that you’re speeding down the highway at 85 miles per hour (mph) in a 70 mph zone. Suddenly, a car in the next lane swerves in front of you without signalling a lane change, and you collide.
The other driver failed to signal and perhaps changed lanes too abruptly. In other words, the other driver was likely negligent. But, you were speeding. If you’d been traveling at the correct speed, you might have been able to slow down, change lanes, or otherwise avoid the collision. Arguably, you were both negligent.
What does that mean for your case?
Comparative Negligence in Georgia
Different states take different approaches to personal injury cases in which the plaintiff is partly at fault. A handful of states still use a contributory negligence rule, which means that if the plaintiff was even 1% responsible for the accident, he or she cannot recover any damages. Other states use a pure comparative fault model, meaning that an injured person can recover for damages in proportion to the fault attributable to the other party, even if the plaintiff was mostly responsible for the accident.
Georgia, like most states, has adopted a middle ground. This model is known as modified comparative negligence or modified comparative fault. In Georgia, an injured party can recover damages only if he or she was less than 50% responsible. Then, damages may be awarded, but will be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine that you’re involved in a car accident and suffer $200,000 in damages. Your case goes to trial and the jury determines that you were 20% at fault. That means your award will be reduced by 20%–in this case, $40,000. So, you would be awarded $160,000 instead of the full $200,000.
If you were found to be 40% at fault, your award would be reduced by 40% and you could still receive $120,000.
But, if you were found to be 50% at fault, you would not be eligible for compensation and would receive nothing.
It’s important to note that this eligibility for or disqualification from receiving damages depends entirely on the plaintiff’s degree of fault. Another party need not be 50% responsible to be liable.
In the example above, if you were found to be 40% at fault your award would be reduced by 40%, regardless of whether there was one party responsible for the remaining 60% or two parties each found to be 30% responsible.
How is Percentage of Fault Determined?
In a personal injury or other negligence-based trial, the jury determines the percentage of fault attributable to each party. If the jury determines that the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, their discretion ends there: a party who was at least 50% responsible can’t recover damages under Georgia law. If the plaintiff is found to be less than 50% responsible, the apportionment of fault will determine the reduction in compensation.
Of course, this can be a highly technical issue and juries won’t have any particular expertise that qualifies them to determine which error or negligent act had the greatest impact on the accident. That means expert witnesses are typically required to explain to the jury how each variable impacted the accident and the degree to which each party was at fault.
In the case of a negotiated settlement, you won’t have to prove the degree of fault. But, degree of fault will be one factor the responsible party’s insurance carrier will consider in determining whether to offer a settlement and how much compensation to offer. So, even at the negotiation stage, your Atlanta car accident attorney must be prepared to demonstrate to opposing counsel that there is a significant likelihood that the apportionment of fault will be favorable to you, and will support the settlement demand.
Talk to an Atlanta Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been injured in an accident that you believe may have been partly your fault, that shouldn’t discourage you from speaking with an experienced local car accident lawyer. While no attorney can guarantee you a particular outcome, an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer will be able to give you a general idea of how situations like yours have been resolved in the past and the strengths and weaknesses of your claim.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.