Learning how to calculate fault in personal injury lawsuits
Deciding whether or not to file a personal injury claim can be a touch process. If your injuries and expenses won’t be fully compensated by the amount the insurance company offers you, then pursuing a civil lawsuit is likely your best option.
When you meet with a personal injury attorney, they will discuss the details of your case with you. Fault is perhaps the most important aspect, as you may not be able to recover some or all of your potential compensation if you’re to blame for the accident.
To provide some clarity via a quick reference, this article identifies fault according to Georgia law as applied to the common types of personal injury cases filed in the state.
Fault in Georgia
The terms fault and “no fault” are often confusing. Those terms lead to black and white thinking where a person mistakenly believes they can’t receive damages if they did anything that may have contributed to the accident. Though a few states in the US still follow this “no-fault” rule and apply contributory negligence, Georgia isn’t one of them. Instead, Georgia is a modified comparative fault state.
Georgia holds that any injured person may recover damages in a lawsuit so long as they were less than 50% to blame for whatever incident resulted in injury. For example, a judge or jury panel might decide if jogging while listening to loud music put you at fault when you were hit by a car.
Fault also plays a role in how your damages are calculated. Your total compensation is reduced by your percentage at fault. Using the above example, if your damages total $200,000, but you were found to be 25% at fault for jogging to loud music, you’re only eligible to recover $150,000.
As you can see, you’ll lose damages by being at fault, but the amount of compensation may still be far greater than anything the insurance company offers. Consult with a personal injury attorney to take a hard look at the numbers and fault calculations.
Personal injury statistics
Every so often the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) releases reports analyzing court cases in the US. Though one hasn’t been released since 2005, the reports’ numbers were certainly interesting:
- Over 16,000 personal injury or “tort” cases went to trial in 2005. A jury decided about 90% of the cases.
- The 16,000 trials only represented about 4% of the total civil claims that were filed. The rest settled or were dismissed before trial.
- Plaintiffs won about 48% of the trials.
- Half of all successful plaintiffs won more than $24,000.
By breaking down the types of personal injury cases into specific categories with their statistics, the numbers reveal even more interesting findings:
Nationally, plaintiffs won over 60% of their personal injury cases involving auto accidents. This includes bicycle accidents, truck accidents, pedestrian accidents and motorcycle accidents. The median amount awarded to accident victims was about $16,000. Auto accidents made up about 50% of the cases in Fulton County cases, alone.
When a plaintiff is able to prove fault in a Georgia car accident case, the accident survivor will prevail in a negligence claim. The plaintiff must show that the other driver contributed over 50% fault in the accident by driving in an unacceptable manner. Whether the other driver was a distracted driver, aggressive driver, or just violating a traffic law affects the level of damages awarded.
In other words, depending how dangerous or reckless the defendant was, they may be placed at a higher level of fault and more liable for damages.
Medical malpractice claims
Medical malpractice covers a host of different injuries and situations. Everything from a surgical error to the wrong medication being prescribed to an incorrect diagnosis could lead to a medical malpractice claim. The BJS found that medical malpractice makes up about 15% of all tort claims and that the plaintiffs received an astounding $697,000 as the median amount of damages. Unfortunately, patients only win less than 20% of the medical malpractice cases.
Georgia medical malpractice trials are complex and involve qualified litigation attorneys. Nevertheless, a fair amount of these cases are unsuccessful because they simply lack proof of fault for the doctor or hospital or other health care provider.
Medical malpractice cases are negligence claims, and the standard is to prove that the health care provider failed to treat the patient as any other doctor would have. Thus, if the doctor acted in a reasonable manner, they won’t be found at fault, despite whatever injuries or harm the plaintiff suffered.
Slip and fall cases are among the most common forms of premises liability cases. This type of personal injury lawsuit occurs when a landowner or manager fails to protect the plaintiff from a dangerous hazard. Here, a plaintiff proves fault by showing that the defendant knew about the hazard yet failed to warn the plaintiff or correct the problem. Neglecting to clean up a spilled substance is among the most common example of premises liability, but anything from not chaining up a dog to having a raised edge on a sidewalk can lead to a premises liability lawsuit in Georgia. Here again, the standards of negligence are applied to determine how much a plaintiff can recover.
Premises liability cases accounted for over 20% of the cases in Fulton County alone, and make up nearly 40% of the nation’s personal injury lawsuits. Plaintiffs win these cases approximately 40% of the time, and the median damages is approximately $90,000.
Intentional torts don’t often come to mind with personal injury lawsuits. These cases arise when a victim is injured by someone’s willful intent. In other words, the defendant wanted to harm the plaintiff. This is different from a negligence case where someone caused harm by accident or due to careless behavior. Common intentional torts involve fraud, false imprisonment, assault, etc. As you may guess, intentional torts are crimes, and criminal charges accompany these cases.
In order to prove fault in these personal injury cases, the plaintiff’s attorney will demonstrate that the defendant intended to harm the victim and that the victim suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions. Plaintiffs typically win these trials and the damages are quite significant. The BJS report stated that the median damages in these cases were approximately $100,000 and that punitive damages were often awarded to these plaintiffs.
It’s important to note that sometimes that a judge or jury doesn’t find the defendant’s actions to be intentional. The case isn’t lost, however. If the plaintiff suffered as a result of the defendant, then the defendant is still at fault. Thus, the plaintiff would win the damages that accompany a negligence claim despite the lack of proof of intent.
If you believe you have a legal claim against someone, we encourage you to browse our directory of personal injury attorneys in Georgia and schedule a consultation. If you’re still unsure as to whether you would satisfy Georgia’s fault requirements, here are some additional articles to read:
- Personal injury myths - what you need to know
- What is classed as a personal injury?
- Comparative negligence, contributory negligence and determining fault
- Fault vs. no fault in a personal injury case
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.