The Impact Of Contributory Negligence On A Personal Injury Claim

As lawyers we are often consulted by prospective clients inquiring about whether they “have a case.” Sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. Oftentimes those who do not have cases are themselves guilty of contributory negligence. In Georgia, this is a very difficult problem to overcome because typically juries are not as likely to award damages to someone who substantially contributed to their own injuries due to their own negligence.
A classic case of contributory negligence is where a motorist is approaching an intersection and decides to turn and while so doing is struck by a motorist coming from the opposite direction. While the speed of the oncoming motorist may have contributed to the collision, the failure to yield, obviously, is part of the equation. Had the client not failed to yield, notwithstanding the speed of the oncoming vehicle, the collision may have been avoided. If the speed was so great that the client understandably miscalculated whether they had time to make a turn, obviously, is a factually specific issue. However, in the hypothetical posed, one can readily see that juries might conclude that the motorist who failed to yield substantially contributed to their own injuries and therefore the speeding motorist might not be held accountable for the full extent of any damages sustained.
In Georgia, contributory negligence claims are submitted to the jury under instruction that if the plaintiff or the person seeking damages was themselves fifty percent (50%) or more responsible for the cause of any given accident then they recover nothing, no matter what their injuries are. If they are less than fifty percent (50%) negligent, they recover their damages reduced by a comparison of their negligence with the defendant who has been sued. Thus, if a jury were to conclude that the plaintiff was forty percent (40%) negligent then they would be entitled to recover sixty percent (60%) of their damages, whatever they might be.
In any case where liability is contested and the possibility of a contributory negligence defense exists, such a potential client should confer with experience counsel as soon as possible so that the liability aspects of the case can be properly investigated. If the contributory negligence can be eliminated as a potential defense, the chances of the injured client receiving full compensation for their damages is greatly increased.

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