Georgia Personal Injury Law

What is Personal Injury Law in Georgia?

If you are injured in an accident in Georgia, it is important to have a thorough understanding of various personal injury laws that may impact your case. These laws can impact when a claim must be filed, who may be legally responsible for the accident and what damages you can claim. Read on for an overview of personal injury laws in Georgia.

Types of Personal Injury Claims in Georgia

There are a variety of personal injury claims in Georgia. Some of the most common types of personal injury claims include the following:

  • Car accidents - Car accidents are one of the most common types of personal injury types. Accidents often occur when one or more drivers do not follow traffic rules or act in a negligent manner.
  • Slips and falls - Slips and falls while at a business or on private property also make up a substantial portion of the personal injury claims in Georgia. When property is kept in an unsafe manner that results in a dangerous condition that causes another person to suffer an injury, the victim may consider pursuing a slip and fall claim against the property owner.
  • Workplace accidents - Many accidents occur at jobsites. Most of these situations fall under the workers' compensation system. However, if a third party is involved, there might be grounds for a separate personal injury claim.
  • Defective products - The manufacturers of products are required to provide safe products for the public to use. If there is a defect in the manufacture, design or warnings of a product, a person who is injured by the defective product may be able to bring a product liability claim against the responsible party.
  • Dog bites - Other personal injury claims arise out of a person's dog biting another person.

What to Do After an Accident in Georgia

If you are involved in an accident, it is important to understand the steps that you should take to protect your health and your personal injury claim. Here are a few of the steps to follow:

  1. Report the accident - If the accident was a motor vehicle accident, you should call the local law enforcement agency to file an accident report. If the accident was a slip and fall or other accident that does not normally get reported to law enforcement, find the proper authority to report the accident to, such as the manager of a business, HR department manager or supervisor.
  2. Seek medical attention - If you were injured in the accident, it is important to get medical treatment for your injuries.
  3. Document the scene - If possible, try to document the scene of the accident. Use your cellphone to take pictures of the scene of the accident and any factors that may have contributed to it, such as a traffic sign that was ignored or inventory in a business that was not stacked correctly. The accident scene will usually not remain in place after the accident, so this may represent the only time that you can document it to use for later evidence in your case.
  4. Exchange information - If the accident was a motor vehicle accident, you will need to exchange information with the other driver including your contact, license and insurance information. Also, get contact information for any witnesses who saw the accident.
  5. Be careful what you say - Avoid accepting responsibility for the accident since these statements can be used against you. Avoid giving a recorded statement to any insurance company that contacts you before consulting with a lawyer. Also, do not sign releases of liability or waivers until you have consulted a lawyer.
  6. Track your injuries - Personal injury claims may take a long time to resolve, so it is important that you track your injuries as they progress because they will change over time. Take pictures after your accident and at each stage. If you required surgery or your health care providers took pictures, get these pictures as well. Your personal injury lawyer may advise you to keep a pain journal in which you write about your symptoms, pain and limitations as your injury progresses to keep a contemporaneous record of this information.
  7. Gather evidence - Gather other forms of evidence that can help you establish your level of damages, such as medical bills, documentation from your employer that shows you lost wages, records that show the damage to your property and other records.
  8. Contact a lawyer - A personal injury lawyer should be contacted as soon as possible to protect your claim and to receive help gathering evidence to support your claim.

Negligence Principles in Georgia

Most personal injury cases allege negligence as the legal theory for recovery. Negligence is defined as the failure to follow a certain degree of care in order to minimize the potential risk of injury to others. Negligence is established by showing the following elements:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care
  • The defendant failed to exercise the duty of care
  • The breach of the duty of care caused the plaintiff's accident
  • The plaintiff suffered damages

If multiple defendants are responsible for the accident, each defendant is responsible for paying damages equal to their degree of responsibility.

Dog Bites and Attacks in Georgia

Many states use a "one bite" rule in which dog owners virtually get a free pass the first time that their dog bites someone else if there was no evidence that the dog had the propensity to be violent. Georgia, however, has a strict liability law that holds dog owners liable for the injuries that their dog causes during a bite or attack incident without the plaintiff having to show that the owner was negligent in any way. Under Georgia's law, if the plaintiff shows that the dog should have been on a leash or at heel but was not, then dog owner is liable for any injuries that result.

Product Liability Claims in Georgia

Product liability claims arise when a person takes legal action after being injured by a product. Product liability claims in Georgia may be based on the theories discussed above, such as negligence or strict liability. In strict liability cases, you do not have to show the defendant was negligent. However, you must show the following elements to recover compensation in a Georgia product liability case:

  • The defendant manufactured the product
  • The product was defective when it left the manufacturer's control
  • The product defect caused the victim to suffer an injury
  • The victim sustained damages

Georgia has an economic loss law that requires that the victim show that he or she suffered damages. If the only damage was to the product itself and not to a person or other property, there is no underlying cause of action unless there is an exception to this rule.

There are three types of product defects:

  • Design defect - This type of defect claims that the manufacturer intended for the product to turn out the way that it did and that this design was inherently dangerous and posed a risk to the consumer that outweighs the benefit of using the product for its intended purpose. Courts can consider if the manufacturer could have used a safer, reasonable alternative design.
  • Manufacturing defect - A manufacturing defect is based on something going wrong during the manufacturing process. A batch of products may have been manufactured incorrectly, causing unsafe products to be released to the public.
  • Warning defect - This type of defect alleges that the manufacturer had a duty to warn consumers of possible dangers of using the product under its intended use. The duty is imposed on manufacturers, as well as other businesses in the stream of commerce.

Victims who are injured by defective products have to file their claim within the two-year statute of limitations. Because the discovery rule may apply in product liability cases, another rule, known as the statute of repose, may affect this case. Georgia's statute of repose says that if an injury occurs outside the relevant timeframe, the victim cannot seek damages based on the injury. The timeframe for product defect injuries is 10 years, based on the first sale of the product for use or consumption. However, this rule does not extend to failure to warn product liability claims in Georgia.

Damages Available in Georgia Personal Injury Cases

"Damages" are the ways that an accident victim were negatively affected, such as suffering damage to their vehicle and incurring medical expenses after a car accident. There are several different types of damages that accident victims can recover from a personal injury claim, including the following:

Actual Damages

Actual damages include the injury you suffered, including special or compensatory damages and general damages.

Special or Compensatory Damages

Special or compensatory damages include economic losses that they suffered. These damages include things that are easier to calculate, such as days missed from work or medical expenses that are incurred. Under this category of damages are the following:

  • Previously incurred medical expenses
  • Emergency room costs
  • Ambulance or other transportation to the emergency room
  • Cost of prescriptions
  • Reasonably anticipated medical expenses for future medical costs
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Economic loss from permanent disability

General Damages

General damages include presumed damages that may not be directly linked to an economic component. For example, general damages include compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of services and companionship of your spouse. The jury must determine the value of these damages.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are additional damages that are awarded in particularly egregious cases, such as when the defendant acted in a malicious, fraudulent, oppressive or willful way that caused injury to the victim.

Catastrophic Injuries in Georgia

A catastrophic injury is a medical condition that is so severe that it prevents the accident victim from resuming a normal life after the accident. These injuries often affect an accident victim for many years or even the rest of his or her life. Examples of catastrophic injuries include the following:

  • Paralysis
  • Amputation
  • Loss of a sense, such as hearing or vision
  • Traumatic brain injuries that impact memory or body function
  • Internal injuries that require ongoing care

Individuals who suffer catastrophic injuries typically require ongoing medical expenses.

Damage Caps in Georgia Personal Injury Cases

Many states have imposed caps on the amount of damages that accident victims can recover for their claim. Often, these states limit the amount of non-economic damages but do not limit the amount of economic damages. The victim's estimation of damages must be reasonably certain, including any losses anticipated in the future.

Punitive damages may sometimes be awarded. Punitive damages in Georgia are typically limited to $250,000 with some exceptions, such as product liability or DUI cases. Part of punitive damages awards goes to the state.

Comparative Fault Laws in Georgia

One important law in Georgia that any accident victim should be familiar with is the comparative fault law. Georgia uses a modified comparative fault rule, which reduces or eliminates the damages that a victim can receive if he or she is partially responsible for the accident. In Georgia, if you are 50 percent or more at fault for the accident, you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit. If you were partially at fault but less than 50 percent at fault, you can still bring your claim, but your damages will be reduced by your degree of fault. For example, if you suffered damages of $100,000 and were found to be 20 percent at fault, 20 percent of the damages would be deducted from your award, so you could only recover $80,000.

Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in Georgia

Georgia has a statute of limitations that limits the amount of time that you have to file a claim against a party responsible for your injuries. In Georgia, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years from the date of the injury. If this time limit passes, the victim can be barred from bringing their suit and the court can refuse to hear the case. The clock usually begins ticking toward this two-year time limit on the date of the accident, but there are some exceptions.

Georgia's discovery rule may affect the statute of limitations. In some cases, it is obvious that the victim is injured. In these cases, the statute of limitations will begin on the date of the accident. However, in other cases such as product defect or medical malpractice cases, the injury may not be apparent. Georgia applies the discovery rule in these types of situations which causes the statute of limitations to begin on the date that the injury was discovered, rather than the date of the accident.

If you are bringing a claim against the government, such as against a city or county, you have six months to file a formal claim.

Get Legal Help with Your Georgia Personal Injury Claim

Because Georgia has a wide variety of laws that impact personal injury cases, it is important to work closely with a knowledgeable Georgia personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help identify all parties responsible for your damages and determine the legal theories available in your case. Personal injury lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they do not charge clients attorney fees unless they have recovered compensation through an insurance claim or verdict. If your claim is not successful, you will not be responsible for attorney fees under this structure. A lawyer can file a claim within the statute of limitations to preserve your right to pursue compensation on your claim. He or she can also handle all communications with the insurance company involved in the case.

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