Five individuals are dead, and several others are injured, after a head-on crash involving a passenger car full of people and a Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority bus.
One investigator said the incident was “the worst accident that I have come across” in twenty-five years as an Atlanta police officer. For unknown reasons, a Nissan driver crossed the center line on Bolton Road, smacking head-on into a city bus. The driver and a 12-year-old passenger, whose names were not released, were rushed to a nearby hospital in critical condition. Two young mothers, 22-year-old Kareema Floyd and 22-year-old Lashondra Murray, were killed, along with their two young children.
An unnamed 18-year-old teenager was also killed in the crash.
Fault vs. Liability
Emergency responders are not accident reconstructionists. They are not even accident investigators. Instead, they focus on securing the scene and tending to injured parties. Their accident inquiries are almost afterthoughts. Emergency responders usually interview witnesses who loiter at the scene. They also talk to the accident parties and examine some physical evidence, such as damage to the vehicles. That’s pretty much it.
The witness interview portion is by no means comprehensive. Many other people probably saw something, especially if the crash happened in daylight or in a relatively crowded area. But drivers hardly ever stop. In fact, once emergency responders arrive, they almost immediately tell these potentially valuable witnesses to “move along.”
A good Marietta personal injury attorney, usually in partnership with a private investigator, knows how to locate and approach these witnesses.
The party interview portion is usually incomplete as well. Frequently, the victim is either seriously injured or dead. Either way, this person is obviously unable to give a statement. So, the emergency responder only hears one side of the story.
As for physical evidence, there is usually a lot more than vehicle damage. For instance, almost all vehicles have Event Data Recorders. These gadgets are much like the black box flight data recorders in commercial airplanes. EDRs measure and record vital items like:
- Vehicle speed,
- Steering angle,
- Brake application, and
- Engine RPM.
EDRs are unavailable at accident scenes. These devices are technologically complex. An accident reconstructionist, or a Marietta personal injury attorney, must tap into the gadget. Additionally, Georgia has very strong vehicle information privacy laws. Even if EDR information is available, it’s usually inaccessible without a court order.
Since this initial investigation is inconclusive, there’s frequently a difference between fault at the scene and legal liability for damages. That’s especially true regarding head-on and rear-end crashes. These collisions often involve the last clear chance doctrine, which is discussed below.
Evidence is critical in car crash claims. The victim/plaintiff must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
The Last Clear Chance Rule
Most noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must avoid accidents and obey the rules of the road. This duty applies regardless of what the other driver does or doesn’t do.
This ongoing duty is the essence of the last clear chance rule. Legal doctrines like this one are also a major reason there is often a difference between fault at the scene and legal responsibility for damages.
The above story is a good illustration. In the court of public opinion, most people would fault the noncommercial driver who crossed into oncoming traffic. However, there is also a difference between the court of public opinion and a court of law.
If the MARTA bus driver saw the other car coming and failed to get out of the way, the bus driver might be legally responsible for damages. The duty of care requires drivers to take the last clear chance to avoid an accident.
However, there is a difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. Sometimes, these wrecks happen so quickly that it’s impossible to get out of the way. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible for a city bus to change lanes quickly without overturning and causing a worse crash.
So, if you were hurt in a crash, a Marietta personal injury attorney should always evaluate your claim. Even if an emergency responder said you were at fault, you might still be entitled to at least partial compensation.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Commercial Operator Duty of Care
As mentioned, noncommercial drivers usually have a duty of reasonable care. The duty is usually the same for everyone, regardless of how much driving experience they have. Since they are driving professionals, bus drivers, Uber drivers, and other commercial operators usually have a higher duty of care. According to Georgia law, if there is a dispute as to who caused the crash, “the presumption of law is against [commercial operators], and no excuse avails them unless the loss was occasioned by the act of God or the public enemies of the state.”
This higher duty of care makes it easier to prove commercial driver negligence in situations like last clear chance crashes. What might be an accident for a noncommercial driver, like looking away from the road for an instant, might be negligence if the driver had a commercial license.
Commercial operator crashes usually involve third-party liability. Generally, employers are legally responsible for their employees’ negligent acts which occurred during the scope of employment. Georgia law defines these key terms in broad, victim-friendly ways. Third-party liability actions against MARTA and other government agencies are especially complex. These agencies usually have limited sovereign immunity.
Even seemingly straightforward car wreck claims are often very complex. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.