A car accident can be a terrifying experience. The days and weeks following the crash can be just as confusing and unsettling. While the actual car crash happens in the span of a few seconds, your injuries may take weeks, months, or even years to heal. Moreover, attempting to obtain adequate compensation for your injuries can take just as long depending on the facts of your case and whether the at-fault driver’s insurance company contests your claim. Knowing what you should do and what you can expect in the moments and days after a car accident can help you calm your own anxieties and take decisive action following a crash.
Georgia Car Accident Statistics
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Georgia maintains records concerning the number and type of traffic collisions that happen in the state each year. In 2013 (the most recent year for which records are available):
- 1,179 individuals lost their lives in fatal traffic accidents;
- Of these 1,179 individuals, 297 deaths were related to alcohol impairment by the at-fault driver and 197 involved speeding by one or both drivers involved in the crash;
- 156 of the 1,179 individuals killed in fatal traffic accidents were under the age of 21 years; and
- The top five counties with the highest number of fatal crashes (in order) were: Fulton County, DeKalb County, Gwinnett County, Cobb County, and Richmond County.
These statistics do not reflect the number of injuries sustained in traffic accidents, which is significantly higher. Together, these numbers and statistics demonstrate that Georgia motorists are in danger of suffering serious, even fatal, injuries while on the state’s highways and roads.
How to Succeed in Your Car Accident Lawsuit
An injury victim (the “plaintiff”) files a car accident lawsuit against the person(s) or entity/entities (the “defendant(s)”) the plaintiff believes to be responsible for causing his or her injuries. A plaintiff prevails when he or she proves all of the necessary legal propositions true by a preponderance of the evidence. This means (in other words) that a successful plaintiff will be entitled to compensation only when he or she proves the four basic elements of a negligence case are more likely than not true in his or her case. These four basic propositions are as follows:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a “duty of care”. This means that the defendant had a certain legally-recognized obligation to behave in a certain manner toward the plaintiff. This proposition is not usually litigated in court much because it is generally accepted and held that every driver on the road owes every other person on the road the legal “duty” to behave and drive his or her car in a reasonable and careful manner.
- The defendant breached the duty of care. Unlike the previous proposition, this element is often contested in a car accident case. A “breach” of the duty of care occurs when the defendant acts in an unreasonable and negligent or reckless manner. Whether behavior qualifies as unreasonable is always determined by considering an objective, rational, and reasonable (and hypothetical) driver: If this hypothetical driver would not have engaged in the behavior in which the defendant engaged, then the defendant acted “unreasonably.” Certain actions like driving while texting or speeding are almost always considered unreasonable. However, determining whether the defendant’s behavior is unreasonable can be more difficult in cases such as those where a crash is caused by a faulty or defective part on the defendant’s car.
- The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries. This is often referred to as the “causation” element: There must be a cause-and-effect relationship between the defendant’s negligent or reckless acts and the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff would not have suffered his or her injuries if the defendant had not acted in the way he or she did, then the requisite causal connection exists. If there are several events in the “chain of events” that ultimately resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries, then causation can become hotly contested and require a thorough explanation before a plaintiff can prevail in his or her case.
- The plaintiff suffered compensable injuries: There is no purpose for a lawsuit if the plaintiff did not suffer any actual injuries or losses as a result of the defendant’s negligence. This proposition requires the plaintiff to provide to the court evidence and/or testimony that establishes the extent and nature of his or her injuries. Where there is a bill or invoice, this will usually suffice to show the extent of the plaintiff’s loss. Where no objective evidence documenting the loss is available, testimony from the plaintiff and other witnesses may be necessary to prove the extent of the plaintiff’s losses.
Each and every one of these propositions can be proven through evidence, through the testimony of witnesses, or a combination of the two. Oftentimes your attorney will want to bolster or reinforce the testimony of witnesses called on your behalf by introducing evidence that corroborates their testimony. The ability of your attorney to collect this important evidence increases dramatically when you contact and retain an attorney soon after your wreck.
Damages Available to Injured Car Accident Victims
Injured motorists and passengers are able to bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or any party who caused or contributed to the crash and attempt to recover compensation for any losses or expenses they incurred as a result of the crash. These damages can be broken down into two categories: “economic” damages and “noneconomic damages.” Economic damages include any loss involving money or assets and include:
- Medical bills and prescription costs;
- Ongoing therapy needs;
- Lost wages due to time missed from work;
- Future lost wages or loss of income; and
- Property damage.
“Noneconomic” damages include those losses that are not monetary in nature. These are oftentimes more difficult to prove and include:
- Mental pain and suffering;
- of enjoyment of life; and
- Loss of value of household services.
Regardless of the nature and extent of your injuries, your injuries and losses must be connected causally to the defendant’s actions in order for you to be able to recover compensation.
I’ve Been Involved in a Car Crash – Now What?
Building a solid car accident lawsuit begins in the moments immediately after the car crash. Your first priority should be summoning medical help if you are injured or believe yourself to be injured. Do not move if you may have suffered a head, neck, or back injury unless you absolutely must do so in order to prevent further injury to yourself (such as if there is a fire nearby). If you are able to do so, you may have an obligation to render reasonable assistance to others who might be injured in the crash.
Once you have summoned law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, you should speak with all other drivers involved in the crash and obtain their names, contact information, and insurance information. Then, take the following steps in order to preserve your rights and help increase your odds of succeeding in your case:
- Do not admit fault for causing the accident, even if you believe you may have in fact been partly responsible. Simple statements such as “I didn’t see you” or “I’m sorry” can be used by other at-fault parties to lay the blame for the accident entirely at your feet. If you are determined to be primarily responsible for your crash, then you will not be able to recover any compensation at all.
- Take photographs of the accident scene, including all cars involved, where the accident occurred, any road signs, signals, or obstructions present, and any injuries you suffered. Try to do this as soon as possible after the crash, before the accident scene is cleaned up or your injuries fade. Be certain to create multiple copies of the pictures so that they will be available when you need them at your trial.
- Speak with eyewitnesses who say they saw the accident or spoke with anyone involved after the accident. Obtain their names and contact information so that you or your attorney can locate them later if their testimony proves to be necessary in your car accident case. At this point, you should not worry about whether they will be helpful to your case or not: depositions that are conducted later can be used to more fully explore what each witness saw and whether each witness will help your case or hurt your case.
- Write down your recollection of the accident. In the days and weeks after a crash, your memory of the series of events leading up to the crash and what happened afterwards will likely fade. While your memory is still fresh, therefore, you should take the time to write down in detail what caused your car accident and what happened after the accident. This will help you provide consistent statements to insurance adjusters and while in court. You should make several copies of your statement and provide a copy to your attorney for safekeeping.
How to Prove Injuries in a Car Accident
The way in which you and your car accident lawyer will prove your injuries will depend on whether the injuries are “economic” or “noneconomic.” In each case, you must first prove that you did in fact suffer economic and/or noneconomic injuries and that these injuries were a direct or collateral consequence of the car accident.
“Economic” damages are those expenses and losses for which there is some objective documentation to show the amount of the loss. Medical bills, prescription drug costs, and lost wages are common examples of economic damages. In most cases, all you will need to do in order to “prove” you suffered these losses and the amount you suffered is to simply produce the bill, the paystub, or the document recording the loss.
“Noneconomic” damages are expenses that are not financial in nature such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. These are more difficult to prove as they are more subjective in nature – there is no “bill” or invoice you can produce that expresses your pain and suffering as a dollar figure. Oftentimes you, your friends, and your family members will need to testify at your trial in order to help the judge or jury understand the nature of your loss.
How to Deal With Insurance Adjusters
Shortly after your accident and/or after you filed a claim for benefits, insurance adjusters will begin attempting to make contact with you. The insurance adjuster’s job is simple: evaluate the merits of your claim for benefits and, if benefits are due, settle your claim as quickly as possible and for as little money as possible. Successful insurance adjusters are those who save their respective insurance company the most money by settling claims of insured clients or injured persons.
When dealing with your insurance adjuster (or the adjuster from another company), be aware that everything you say can be used to deny your claim or reduce the amount of compensation you will be offered. Stick to the facts of your accident and do not “guess” or offer any information that you are not 100 percent certain is correct and accurate. Do not admit that you were at fault in the accident, especially if there has been no investigation into the cause or causes of your crash.
Many individuals find it helpful to retain an experienced Georgia car accident lawyer prior to speaking with any adjuster. Your attorney can handle communications with the adjuster(s) in your case, alleviating you of unnecessary worry and allowing you to focus on your recovery.
Do I Need an Attorney to Handle My Accident Case?
There is no law requiring Georgia car accident plaintiffs to hire an attorney in order to pursue compensation through the courts. However, consider the many benefits that an attorney can provide you before you determine that you do not need one:
- attorney is familiar with the laws, court decisions, and regulations applicable to your case
- An attorney knows how to prepare your initial pleadings and respond to motions made by the opposing party;
- An attorney likely has the resources necessary to conduct a full investigation into your car accident, helping you identify all the parties responsible for causing your accident;
- An attorney will know the evidence and/or testimony necessary to help prove your case and the extent of your injuries, and will know how to obtain and preserve this information; and
- An attorney is skilled in presenting your case to a judge or jury and knows how to ask questions of lay and expert witnesses and introduce important exhibits into evidence.
You should also be aware that if you choose to represent yourself (called proceeding pro se), you will be held to the same standards as an attorney familiar with the procedural and substantive laws applicable in your case. Neither the judge nor the court staff will be able to assist you in preparing or presenting your case.
What if I Was Hit by an Uninsured Driver?
Being hit and injured by an uninsured driver usually means that the responsibility of paying for your medical care and treatment will fall upon you (at least initially). While some medical providers may be willing to work with you by accepting reduced or delayed payments until your uninsured accident claim can be fully resolved, you should be prepared to have to pay these expenses immediately after services have been rendered. These obligations can be met by:
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance Coverage, which offers additional protections to you above and beyond those offered through your standard car insurance policy. This policy rider (available in most cases for a small additional fee) pays you compensation for the losses you experience after being hit by an uninsured driver or in a hit-and-run accident.
- Personal Health Insurance, which most Americans must carry as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Most personal health insurance policies will cover much of the treatment you will need after a car accident, but there may be a high deductible associated with using this insurance.
- Filing suit against the uninsured driver, if he or she can be located and identified. An uninsured driver will be personally responsible for the damages he or she causes to you. However, it may be difficult or impossible to obtain payment for these damages if the uninsured or underinsured driver has little or no assets.
Speaking with an experienced Georgia car accident lawyer soon after being hit by an uninsured driver can help you understand your rights and what steps you can take to quickly get the compensation you need.
Drunk Driving Accidents
Driving under the influence of alcohol is a careless – even reckless – act that significantly increases the likelihood that a driver will be involved in a crash. Even if the intoxicated driver is not “over the limit” of .08 or suffers any criminal consequences because of his or her actions, he or she can nevertheless be held responsible for the injuries and losses suffered by the drivers and/or passengers the drunk driver strikes.
If you suspect that the driver who hit your vehicle was under the influence of alcohol when the accident occurred, be certain to write down the observations that lead you to this conclusion: Was there a smell of alcohol about the person? Did he or she slur his or her words? Did he or she stumble about after the accident or make a statement that he or she was “wasted?” All of this information can be useful in establishing the driver was indeed under the influence. Your attorney may also be able to obtain the results of any breath or blood tests performed on the other driver, which too can help establish your claim for compensation.
Statute of Limitations
You do not have an unlimited amount of time after a car crash within which to file a lawsuit. Georgia’s statute of limitations gives you two years after the date of your car accident within which to file your lawsuit for compensation. This two-year “clock” begins running on the date of your accident and in most cases does not stop running until your lawsuit is properly filed or until the two-year period expires. If you fail to file your lawsuit within this two-year period, you are generally prohibited from ever seeking compensation for your injuries arising from your car accident through a lawsuit. It is always advisable to file your lawsuit as soon as possible so that you are not in danger of running up against the statute of limitations.
There are certain circumstances which will toll, or stop, the statute of limitations “clock” from running for a period of time. Most notably, if you took reasonable steps following your accident but did not discover you had suffered injuries until some time well after the accident occurred, the statute of limitations may not run until that date that you knew or should have known you were injured. This can result in you having additional time within which to file your case. Speak with a knowledgeable attorney if the statute of limitations in your case has expired but you believe extenuating circumstances exist.
How Much Does an Accident Lawyer Cost?
Although there are still some accident attorneys in Georgia that charge large retainer fees to take a car accident case and who will bill clients by the hour, more and more car accident lawyers are charging clients on a contingency-fee basis. The attorneys who do so usually recognize that many car accident victims are in need of professional legal advice and counsel but often do not have the funds to pay expensive retainer fees or hourly lawyer rates.
In a contingency-fee arrangement, the lawyer’s fees are made contingent on him or her being able to obtain compensation for you. If the lawyer is not able to obtain compensation on your behalf, then you are not responsible for paying the lawyer’s fees. If the lawyer is successful, however, the lawyer’s fees will be deducted from the compensation obtained. Typically, the lawyer will collect a percentage of the compensation obtained as his or her fees.
While this makes obtaining quality legal representation easier, you should be aware that very few attorneys work on a pure contingency-fee basis. Many lawyers will still hold you responsible for the costs of preparing your case, including filing fees, deposition fees, and fees for requesting records. Every attorney is different, so be certain to speak with each attorney you are considering hiring about their fee arrangements and what costs for which you are responsible.
What is the Law on Rear End Accidents?
Rear-end vehicular accidents are handled in the same way as any other car accident case. Georgia does not have any special laws or legal principles that apply only to rear-end collisions – that is, a person who negligently causes a rear-end accident can be held responsible for the injuries others suffer in such accident. Determining who is at fault in a rear-end collision is not always an easy task, however. When first learning to drive, most young drivers are warned that in a rear-end collision the driver of the rear vehicle is always at fault. While conventional wisdom might hold that the rear vehicle in a rear-end collision (in which the rear vehicle strikes a lead vehicle in front of it) is responsible for causing the crash, the truth is there may be any number of contributing causes to the collision:
- The lead vehicle may have abruptly braked or turned on a signal to turn;
- The lead vehicle may have defective braking lights or turn signals; or
- A vehicle behind the rear vehicle may have struck the rear vehicle, causing the rear vehicle to strike the lead vehicle.
Even if a law enforcement officer tickets the rear vehicle’s driver for following too closely or inattentive driving, a thorough investigation into the crash is needed before fault can be fairly apportioned.
Ridesharing groups like Uber and taxicab companies represent two popular transportation alternatives for those who either do not have their own vehicle or who are unable to safely transport themselves from one place to another. However, there is nothing special about an Uber driver or taxicab driver that immunizes them against negligent conduct. An Uber driver or taxicab driver can make an error in judgment or act recklessly, causing an accident that injuries not only themselves but you as well.
Taxicab companies must carry a certain amount of insurance to cover the expenses and injuries a passenger may suffer if one is injured in a taxicab crash. Similarly, drivers who offer ridesharing services through Uber must also have insurance that meets certain minimum requirements. A company or driver who does not have this minimum level of insurance coverage can find themselves personally responsible for the losses and expenses their injured passengers suffer (in addition to administrative, criminal, or civil sanctions that may be imposed for not carrying enough insurance).
The best course of action following a taxicab or Uber wreck is to contact an attorney who can review the facts of your case. Your attorney can then tell you what rights you have and how best to exercise them. Your attorney can also help you explore other avenues to obtain payment for your losses if the taxicab driver or Uber driver was not carrying proper insurance.
What if I’m a Passenger in a Wreck?
Georgia motor vehicle passengers who are injured in a car accident have the same rights to pursue a claim for compensation for their injuries as injured motorists. A passenger can bring a lawsuit against any negligent party – including the driver of the vehicle in which the passenger was injured – who the passenger believes caused or contributed to his or her own injuries. If more than one person is responsible for contributing to the crash, the passenger can pursue a claim against each of these individuals. If they are found to be responsible, they will bear responsibility for the passenger’s injuries in proportion to the role their negligent or reckless behavior played in causing the accident.
If you are in injured passenger, know that your own negligence can also play a role in determining what compensation you can receive. If you were not primarily responsible for causing the crash, you may still receive compensation. However, this compensation will be reduced in proportion to the role your negligence played. Behaviors such as distracting the driver or attempting to grab the wheel from the driver’s control – even if done in jest – can be considered negligent behavior.
Pedestrians struck by motor vehicles being driven by negligent or reckless drivers enjoy rights to pursue compensation against the driver just as another injured motorist would. Pedestrian accidents can be more complicated than car accidents because pedestrians tend to suffer injuries that are more serious and complicated than injured motorists or passengers. Not only this, but the at-fault driver may attempt to pin part or all of the blame for the collision on the pedestrian by claiming the pedestrian was not watching where he or she was going or was not clearly visible to the at-fault driver.
If you were injured in a pedestrian crash, experienced legal counsel is key to ensuring your pedestrian crash lawsuit has the greatest chance for success. Your attorney may need to contact one or more expert witnesses in order to establish that the injuries you suffered were in fact caused by the collision with the car and what role, if any, your own behavior may have played in causing the crash.
Car Accident FAQs
If you have been injured in a car accident, you likely have many questions about what you should do next, what rights you have, and what you can expect in the future. Here are answers to several frequently-asked questions:
- Shouldn’t I just settle my case? The insurance company or the other driver may offer you a settlement as a way to avoid taking your case to trial. Only you can decide whether it makes sense to accept any settlement agreement. However, you should be aware that a settlement agreement is binding once it is entered into: if you end up discovering your injuries are more severe than previously thought after the settlement agreement is signed, you are generally unable to “re-open” your case and ask for additional compensation.
- My insurance adjuster is asking for a recorded statement. Should I comply with this request? Avoid giving a recorded statement to the insurance adjuster until you have had a chance to review your case with a car accident lawyer. Saying the wrong thing to the insurance adjuster can be used to deny your claim or reduce the amount of compensation you would otherwise receive.
- I feel fine after my car accident – must I go in the ambulance to the hospital? If you have suffered serious injuries or are not certain as to the extent of your injuries after a car accident, you should go to the hospital immediately for evaluation. But even if you “feel fine,” you should still make an appointment and be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible. Doing so helps ensure that you have not suffered any internal injuries and is an important step in protecting your right to pursue compensation for injuries that may appear in the days and weeks following your accident.
Don’t hesitate to contact a skilled attorney if you have suffered injuries in a car accident. The dedicated lawyers at the Law Office of John B. Jackson are prepared to assist you today. Reach out to our office for a free and confidential consultation on your case.