You may think that proving fault in a personal injury case is pretty clear-cut, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some states have complex formulae for determining the degree to which a party or parties are at fault, and only after considering the facts in evidence and applying these formulae can a sum of money be decided upon as fair compensation for someone’s pain and suffering.
Unless there is a settlement, a jury determines compensatory damages after an objective review of who was at fault and to what degree or extent.
Who’s at Fault?
While laws vary in each state, Georgia follows the modified comparative negligence rule. That means that a plaintiff who was partially at fault may recover damages unless they are found to be 50 percent or more at fault.
In some personal injury claims, legal liability (i.e. the degree to which one is at fault) is quite clear:
- The injured person was in a location he was not supposed to be, or he was somewhere he should have expected the kind of activity that caused the accident or injury. For instance, if you walk into a construction zone that’s clearly marked and get hit with flying debris and are injured, you may be found to have assumed the risk and may be considered partially at fault.
- If the injured person was careless, the compensation awarded may be reduced by the extent the carelessness contributed to the accident and injuries.
- If the defendant was negligent while working for someone else, the employer may also be held legally responsible for the accident and injuries. This theory of liability is known as vicarious liability.
- In a similar vein, an accident that occurs on property that’s dangerous because it’s poorly maintained or constructed may also be the fault of the property owner, if he created or if he knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.
- In regard to defective product cases, either the manufacturer and seller or distributor of the product may be found to be liable depending on the nature of the product defect.
Most personal injury claims arise due to someone’s negligence, which is legally defined as, “conduct that falls below the standard of care expected of a reasonable person and causes harm to another person.” When the below legal elements of negligence are proven, a defendant can be held liable for personal injury damages:
- Duty: A legal duty by the defendant to the plaintiff must exist (a doctor owing a duty of care to a patient or a driver owing a duty of care to pedestrians or other motorists)
- Breach: The legal duty must be breached (a surgeon has left a sponge in a body cavity of a patient who had surgery)
- Causation: The defendant’s action or (inaction) must be the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries (this can be pretty obvious in some cases and not so obvious in others)
- Damages: The plaintiff must suffer incur actual damages including medical bills, lost income, etc. as a result of the defendant’s conduct or failure to act.
If you think you may have a personal injury claim in Atlanta or anywhere in Georgia and have questions about determining fault, please contact attorney Laurie Robbins to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.