The Spaghetti Junction is dangerous enough without distracted drivers texting on their cell phones, and when the jerk in the Hummer swerves into your lane and scrapes your car, it's all you can do to prevent your vehicle from running off a bridge. You pull over to assess the damage, but now what? Accidents are becoming increasingly common, and Atlanta ranks among the worst cities for vehicle safety in the nation. You need straight talk, and FindLaw delivers with this guide to your Atlanta car accident.
For starters, print this helpful checklist of initial steps to take after an accident (PDF) to store in your glove box today. The Georgia DMV has created an in-depth guide for what to do after an accident, too.
First, you are required by law to pull over to a safe location and exchange names, addresses, license plate numbers, driver's license numbers and insurance information to all other parties involved in the accident. You must also contact the Atlanta police department for all accidents causing injury, death or more than $500 in property damage. Also, render medical assistance to anyone injured, even if he was an inconsiderate driver.
It's usually a good idea to avoid talking about the accident itself with the other driver or parties involves. Specifically, don't admit fault for the accident or apologize. These statements could come back to haunt you should another driver try to sue you.
If you don't call law enforcement to the scene of an accident, you'll probably want to complete a Personal Report of Accident. This form is for your personal use only, so don't send it in to a government agency. However, it could protect you in court if needed at a future time. You'd be smart to record the information just after the accident happened, so it will help you remember events as they occurred during that time.
In Georgia, you are required to have liability insurance to help pay for injuries or damages you might cause to someone else as a result of a car accident. Specifically, your car insurance policy must have these minimum coverage amounts:
- $25,000 for bodily injury to one person;
- $50,000 for bodily injury to multiple people;
- $25,000 in property damage for the entire accident.
Like most states, Georgia has a "fault" system for determining liability and insurance coverage after an accident. This means that the at-fault driver is liable for any personal injury or property damage resulting from the accident.
Many drivers purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance so that they are protected in the event an underinsured driver causes an accident and cannot afford the liability (though this is not required). Georgia subdivides underinsured coverage into two categories: "reduction" coverage and "excess" coverage. Reduction coverage is diminished by the other driver's insurance, while excess coverage stacks on top of the at-fault driver's coverage.
Filing a Lawsuit: Time Limits and Where to Go
In Georgia, you have two years from the date of the car accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury, and four years from the date of the car accident to file a lawsuit for damage to your vehicle. These statutes of limitation prevent plaintiffs from dragging defendants into court for accidents long-past, after all evidence has disappeared and memories faded. You'd be wise to start your lawsuit sooner rather than later, as courts enforce these time limits strictly.
You can file your lawsuit with the State Court of Fulton County, which has jurisdiction over civil cases regardless of the amount in controversy. It has three locations:
- Fulton County Justice Center Tower, 185 Central Ave.
- Lewis R. Slaton Courthouse, 136 Pryor St., S.W.
- Charles L. Carnes Justice Center Building, 160 Pryor St.
If your claim is worth $15,000 or less, you may instead opt for the informal procedure of small claims court by filing your lawsuit at the Magistrate Court of Fulton County, which is located in the Fulton County Justice Tower at 185 Central Ave.
The most common lawsuit following an auto accident is one claiming negligence. Negligence governs accidentally caused injuries. You must show that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances.
For serious accidents involving a fatality, the deceased individual's family members may be able to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit aims to recover lost wages, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
In some cases involving a defective vehicle or part, it may be necessary to sue the vehicle or part manufacturer themselves in a products liability lawsuit. To succeed in this sort of lawsuit, you must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused the accident. Proving a defect usually requires the analysis of an automotive expert, and the cases can get quite technical.
Georgia follows the comparative negligence doctrine when multiple parties are each partially responsible for the auto accident. Under Georgia's comparative negligence law, the court looks at the portion of fault each party played in the injury or death of a person. The amount of fault is assigned in terms of percentages, and recovery is reduced by each person's proportional fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in repair bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. However, Georgia has modified the comparative negligence standard for extreme cases: damages may not be awarded if the injured or deceased party was 50% or more at fault. Someone 49% at fault will still recover 51% of their damages.
Get Legal Help After Your Car Accident in Atlanta
Accident law is more complicated than one might think, so it might be a good idea to speak with an experienced car accident attorney in Georgia if you've been injured in a car accident. An attorney will be familiar with the state's car accident laws and know the steps in filing a lawsuit.