Basic Principles of Negligence in Georgia Auto Accident Law: Demystifying Complex Legal Concepts


September 15, 2010

If you suffer a personal injury in an auto accident, trucking accident, SUV rollover accident, motorcycle accident or any other type of accident causing injuries, catastrophic injuries or fatalities, your claim against the other driver will often be based on the negligence of the other driver. Negligence in its simplest sense means something akin to carelessness or fault but that is an oversimplification.

A negligence case requires that your attorney establish the following elements: (1) the defendant owed you a duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty of care; (3) the breach was the actual and proximate cause of your injuries; and (4) actual damages (i.e. injuries and/or property damage).

While it is easy to list the elements necessary to establish a negligence claim, it is sometimes harder to understand what they really mean in practice. There are years of cases, or even decades or 100 years of cases in some circumstances, where the Judges have interpreted the meaning of the law and the meaning of even specific words in the law as applied to particular facts.  The attorneys at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, understand that legal concepts can be complex and confusing. We have provided an explanation of some key legal concepts related to negligence so that when you visit a Georgia personal injury lawyer you will have a better understanding of what must be established to be compensated in a personal injury case.  Please note that this is only a general summary, and that your particular situation needs to be analyzed by an attorney skilled in the applicable area(s) of law.

The first issue is whether the defendant owed you a duty of care. The most typical way to explain the duty of care is that one must exercise the care of an ordinary reasonable person to protect others from injury. Whether one is driving a motor vehicle, building a scaffolding on a construction site, or maintaining a roadway, the person, company or public entity has an obligation to take reasonable care to protect others from injury. A person is not required to be perfect in one's judgments or actions but is at least required to act like a reasonable person under similar circumstances. 

The law imposes a heightened duty of care in certain situations often involving inherently risked behavior, specialized training or knowledge, or situations that are exclusively within the control of the person who causes the injury. A few examples of a heightened duty of care include professionals, such as doctors, attorneys, or accountants who are typically held to the standard of a professional in the same field and geographic area. Those who run public transportation systems often referred to as "common carriers" like buses and trains are also held to higher standards because the public who uses the transportation has no way to avoid a bus accident or metro-rail accident.

Most times in a motor vehicle accident there is no issue as to whether a duty is owed because everyone on the road owes at least a duty of reasonable care to protect others from injury in a traffic accident. In other types of personal injury cases, the question of whether a duty was owed and how much of a duty is one that an experienced Georgia personal injury lawyer can answer. At Montlick and Associates, we have been helping clients determine the responsible parties in personal injury and accident cases for over 25 years.

If you seek legal advice regarding injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of another, your attorney may also talk about the need to establish causation. Causation in the sense an attorney uses the term is different than causation in the ordinary sense. Causation as used by your attorney usually has several dimensions including:

Actual (But For) Causation: This is causation in the sense we most ordinarily think about it. For example, because the other driver ran a red light, you suffered a fracture when his vehicle collided with your car. This type of causation is sometimes referred to as "but for" causation. In essence, this means if not for the other driver running the red light, you would not have a fracture.

Proximate Causation: This is a much more complex concept. It basically means that even when someone is the "but for" cause of one's injuries sometimes the chain of events is so unforeseeable that it is unfair to hold someone responsible. For example, can a butterfly flapping its wings in China cause the collapse of a bridge in New York through a long chain of intervening events? The idea is that if a result is an unpredictable consequence of one's actions it is not reasonable to impose liability. There needs to be "proximate" causation.

Superseding Cause: A superseding cause is a specific example of how someone may not be found to be the proximate cause of a person's injuries even without a long chain of intervening events. Suppose you are rushed to the hospital after a car accident with non-fatal injuries, the other driver may still be responsible if you catch an infection in the hospital and die. Although we do not typically think of infection as a way someone dies in a car accident, it is a reasonably foreseeable result if someone is involved in a traffic accident requiring medical treatment. On the other hand, intentional criminal activity of a third party tends to be a superseding cause. Using the auto accident example, a person who is shot by a robber while at the hospital will probably not be able to hold the driver accountable for one's death because being shot by a robber is not the type of risk that is usually created by an auto accident.

With over a quarter of a century of experience, the Georgia personal injury lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, know that the law can be complex. We pride ourselves on explaining the law and how it applies to your case in a way that is understandable. Whether you are injured in a car accident, truck accident, construction accident, by a defective product, or any other negligence, the attorneys of Montlick and Associates, Attorney at Law, will work hard to protect your rights and to get you the compensation you deserve. We are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia including, but not limited to, Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller and rural towns in the state. Call us today for your free consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333), or visit us on the web at www.montlick.com.  No matter where you are in Georgia, we are just a phone call away!

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.