Fault is usually based on the legal concept of negligence. A negligent driver isn’t as careful as a reasonable driver in a similar situation. How fault is determined after a car accident in Georgia is evidence and the rule of law.
After an accident, the insurance companies will make their own conclusion about fault based on witness statements, vehicle damage, police reports and other evidence. If a lawsuit is filed, a judge or jury will look at this same type of evidence, but may reach a different conclusion than the insurance company did.
Why does It Matter Who Is at Fault?
There are two approaches to car insurance and fault in the United States. Some states have “no fault” or “personal injury protection” insurance, so no matter who is at fault in an accident, your own insurance policy will pay for your injuries.
Georgia, however, has a fault-based system. If a driver is at fault, that driver’s insurance company must pay for all the injuries and vehicle damage that occur because of the accident. Sometimes, drivers share fault, and states have different rules on that as well.
If you are determined to be at fault, you may not be able to recover compensation for what happened. Therefore, questions of fault matter are an essential part of personal injury claims.
How Do Insurance Companies Decide Who Is at Fault?
The determination of fault starts with the police officer who responds to the accident. At the scene, the officer will talk to drivers and other witnesses and examine the damage to the vehicles. The officer will prepare a report that may include the officer’s opinion about who was at fault. The officer may also issue traffic citations.
When an insurance company receives an accident report, it assigns an adjuster to the claim. The adjuster will look at the police report, but will also conduct a separate investigation. This may include getting statements from the parties involved, reviewing witness accounts and vehicle damage, and looking at the types of injuries that occurred.
The adjuster will then decide whether one or more of the drivers were negligent. Often, this process happens at both drivers’ insurance companies. Insurance companies perform these investigations to prevent fraud, and also to minimize liability if they can.
What Must Be Proven to Establish Fault?
There are four elements that either side must prove to show fault. These four items are:
- A duty of care between the parties
- Breach of the duty of care
- Causation of damages because of the breach
- Proof of the damages
All drivers have an automatic duty of care between everyone on the road. The duty of care is simply the care a reasonable person would take in a similar situation. Reasonable people don’t drive recklessly and wear their seatbelts, for example.
Breaching the duty of care can be something as simple as not looking before backing out to something like drunk driving. Causation shows that the breach caused your injury (i.e., it wasn’t a pre-existing condition.)
Proof of the damages shows how much you should receive to compensate for the accident. These damages must be actual damages, not speculative ones, though sometimes they can give compensation for things that will happen in the future, like ongoing medical care.
How Is Fault Decided in a Lawsuit?
In most car accident cases, an insurance company makes a settlement payment after determining that its driver was at fault. But some cases aren’t so easily resolved, and you need a lawsuit to settle the situation.
If the lawsuit goes to trial, the judge or jury will listen to evidence and decide which driver was negligent. They will examine evidence brought forward by both sides to reach a conclusion about what happened and who is at fault.
The judge or jury may or may not reach the same conclusions about liability as the insurance adjusters. If your case gets this far, it’s your lawyer’s job to argue for your side of events as persuasively as possible. Only about 10% of car accident cases have to go to trial.
What if More Than One Driver Was at Fault?
Sometimes, more than one driver was negligent. When this happens, Georgia uses a “comparative fault” system to determine which driver must pay, and how much. Specifically, it’s a modified comparative fault system.
Under Georgia’s system, the court assigns each driver a percentage of fault. For example, one driver might be 70% at fault, while the other is 30% at fault. If you are 50% or more at fault, you cannot recover any money.
If you are less than 50% at fault, you can recover money from the other driver. However, the amount of money you receive will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. Thus, if you were to get $100,000 but were 30% at fault, you’d only receive $70,000.
How Can I Protect Myself if I Was Not at Fault?
Insurance companies look for ways to find another driver at fault, because that means they won’t have to pay out as much money. This means you must be careful of what you say around the insurance company, and never take the blame for an accident you didn’t cause.
The best way to make sure you aren’t unfairly held at fault for an accident is to get a car accident lawyer on your side. A simple consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer in Atlanta can help you understand whether you were at fault and how to handle the insurance company.
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