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Understanding Georgia’s Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence Laws in Personal Injury Cases

When it comes to personal injury cases, most are based on a series of negligence. Usually, one party (plaintiff) must prove that the other party (the defendant) acted negligently. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s negligence caused financial loss or personal injuries, they are entitled to compensation. Georgia is considered a fault state, or an at-fault state. But how does this relate to comparative vs. contributory negligence and personal injury cases? Let’s take a look.

Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury claims fall under the category of civil cases. Civil cases occur when citizens or companies sue each other in court, and do not involve the breaking of a criminal law. 

Personal injury cases commence when an individual undergoes harm as a result of the actions or negligence of another individual. If the defendant is found liable, their insurance company is responsible for monetary compensation for the injured party. This monetary compensation can cover medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other expenses. 

In civil cases, the plaintiff has something called the burden of proof. This means that the plaintiff needs to prove their claim by affirming that their case is more than 50% likely to be true, providing a greater weight of evidence than the defendant.

What is Negligence?

The everyday meaning of the word negligence is different from its legal meaning. When you look the word up it’s usually defined as “failure to take proper care in doing something” (Google Dictionary).  

The legal meaning focuses more on the person’s actions and the action of failure itself. According to the Legal Information Institute, “Negligence is the failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same circumstances. Either a person’s actions or omissions of actions can be found negligent. The omission of actions is considered negligent only when the person has a duty to act.”

Simply put, if you can prove negligence, you can get compensation from the at-fault party. But, how do you do that? 

Proving Negligence

Negligence is difficult to establish. The injured party has the responsibility to prove that the other party was negligent towards them. The required amount of proof in a personal injury case is determined by the ‘preponderance of the evidence’. In layman’s terms, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent, resulting in injuries that led to damage. In accordance with the preponderance of the evidence, you must show a greater than 50% truth in claims. 

For example, if you are claiming that a driver was drunk-driving and rear ended your vehicle due to being under the influence, you must be able to prove that the driver was intoxicated. You can do this by  showing camera footage, eyewitness accounts or traffic citations.

Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence

There are two main types of negligence that can impact an accident victim’s compensation: contributory and comparative .  

Contributory– a plaintiff is completely barred from recovering compensation if they were negligent in any way, even if they were 1% to blame. They will not be able to recover any damages!

In most circumstances, contributory negligence has been dissipated. However, states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Alabama and Washington, DC still use certain forms in injury cases. This can make it very difficult to recover any damages for those that live in these states. 

Comparative– damages are allocated to parties according to the percentage of fault. This standard is much more forgiving, but can be more complicated to calculate. A good example of this would be if the plaintiff is 40% at fault, then they would only recover 60% from the defendant. Or, if the plaintiff had 100,000$ in damages then the defendant would only have to pay 60,000 to the plaintiff. 

Within Comparative Negligence, there are two different subtypes: pure comparative and modified comparative

  • Pure Comparative– allows a plaintiff to recover damage even if they are 99% at fault, meaning they would only recover 1% from the defendant.
  • Modified Comparative– in Georgia, the plaintiff only recovers compensation if they are at fault less than the defendant. Typically the ‘less’ refers to 49% and below. If the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, they usually will not get money from the defendant, who is less at fault (O.C.G.A. 51-12-23).

Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence Damages

A plaintiff in a negligence case must prove ‘legally’ recognized harm. This is demonstrated as different damages types. They are:

  • Past and anticipated medical expenses
  • Lost wages, benefits, or commissions
  • Future lost earnings
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental distress
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Wrongful death

Georgia also has no damage capacity for personal injury cases.  This means that you can work with your personal injury attorney to calculate all losses, and not disregard any damages. 

If you want a more in depth look at the different types of damages in personal injury cases, then check out our other blog: here.

Need Help with Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence?

If you are seeking an attorney for a negligent personal injury case, we can help. Personal injury cases must be handled with delicacy and professionalism. Let the Law Offices of P. Kent Eichelzer III help you today! We have offices conveniently located in Woodstock and Marietta, GA. Don’t wait another minute; contact us today to set up a free consultation!