Georgia is a Comparative Fault State: What Does That Mean?
Earlier this year in Columbia County, Georgia, an intoxicated woman with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.451, more than five times the legal limit of 0.08, turned left into a gas station right in the path of an oncoming pick-up truck. The pick-up truck plowed into the passenger side of the woman’s vehicle.
Six children between the ages of 6 and 11 were seriously injured, two of them critically. Although the female driver was wearing her seat belt, none of the children were wearing their seatbelts. The prognosis for a 6-year-old girl is not good. Her spine was severely injured and it is unlikely that she will ever walk again.
The female driver has been charged with several criminal offenses. According to police reports and witnesses, the pick-up driver was complying with the rules of the road. In addition to the driver of the pick-up truck, the injured children should be able to collect their damages from the female driver’s insurance company. But, not all drunk driving accidents have the same outcome. Just because an intoxicated driver is involved in an accident does not always mean that he or she is 100% responsible.
Negligence Per Se
According to Georgia law, if a person violates a provision of the Uniform Rules of the Road, such as driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, the law presumes that person was negligent under the theory of negligence per se. The burden then shifts to the intoxicated driver to prove that the BAC had nothing to do with the accident and he or she was not negligent.
Another defense a drunk driver can assert that, even if the drunk driving was a partial cause of the accident, the other driver was also negligent. If the drunk driver can prove the other driver was at least 50 percent responsible for the accident, the driver who was not under the influence will be barred from collecting damages.
Georgia’s Comparative Law Statute
In Georgia, in any lawsuit for personal injury, the other party can raise the defense that the plaintiff was also at fault for the accident. This is true even if you prove the defendant was drunk.
If the defendant is successful and the jury finds you were partially responsible, your damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to you. For example, if the jury’s verdict is $100,000 but they also find you to have been 30 percent responsible for the collision, then as the plaintiff your award will be $70,000.00.
If the jury finds you were at least 50 percent responsible, under Georgia’s Comparative Fault statute, you will collect nothing. This is true whether the driver you are suing was drunk or not.
For example, in the example given, if the pick-up truck driver had been injured, and the drunk driver could prove he was running a red light when he plowed into her, if the jury found him to bear 50 percent responsibility, he would be barred from collecting damages. As long as the jury determines the plaintiff’s responsibility is 49.99% or less, he or she can recover the percentage difference in the verdict. However, if you are 50 percent at fault, or greater; you collect nothing.
Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Accidents
In a majority of personal injury cases, a plaintiff does not seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are additional damages awarded because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish, or deter a defendant. They are awarded if the defendant’s actions were willful, malicious, fraudulent, and exhibited a conscious indifference to consequences. An example would be if the defendant was driving drunk, while his licenses was suspended and he ran a stop sign which caused him to t-boned another vehicle.
When punitive damages are allowed, with just a few exceptions, they are capped at $250,000. In the case of a drunk driver, there is no limit placed on the amount of damages available to the victim. This is because the purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the victim, but to punish the drunk driver.
If you were in an accident that was not your fault, or only partially your fault, and the other driver was drunk, the attorneys at Georgia Trial Attorneys have the experience you need on your side. We will work diligently represent and defendant against any allegations that you were at fault for the accident.
The law requires you to file your lawsuit within a certain amount of time after the accident. If you miss the deadline, you will be unable to collect for your damages no matter how seriously you were injured. Do not let the time run out. Contact us today and arrange for a free case evaluation.