A 58-year-old man is dead after a two-car collision that involved a 17-year-old behind the wheel of a large SUV. However, it’s very difficult to ascertain liability in cases like this one.
The wreck happened in Macon near the intersection of Bloomfield Road and University Drive. According to police and witnesses, 51-year-old Roland Holt apparently lost control of his vehicle. He drifted from the eastbound side of Mercer to the westbound side. In so doing, he crossed in front of a 17-year-old driver and struck the vehicle head-on. Holt was killed in the crash, and the teenage driver, along with a teenage passenger, were rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Police did not release the names of the teenagers as they continue to investigate the crash.
Procedural Matters in Car Crash Cases
Many people may skip this section of this blog. They equate “procedural” with “unimportant.” In many cases, that’s at least partially true. But procedural errors take time to correct. And, time is precious in a personal injury claim. Victims need fair settlements as quickly as possible. And, once time is gone, it’s impossible to get it back.
Venue, or the place where the lawsuit is filed, is an important consideration. Like many Georgia cities, part of Macon is in one county and part is in another county. The accident claim must be filed in the county where the crash happened or the county where the plaintiff resides. If a lawyer files a case in the wrong county, the attorney must start over with another case in the correct county. So, attention to detail is a very important quality in a Marietta personal injury lawyer.
A number of factors go into this decision. Many times, it’s best to file a lawsuit in the county where the accident occurred. The witnesses are there, and the physical evidence is there. On the other hand, it may be better for the victim/plaintiff to file in the residential county, especially if the victim is still recovering from serious injury.
The statute of limitations is about the only game-ending procedural error. Once the time limit expires, it’s almost impossible to revive the claim. That’s why it is so important to see a doctor right after the crash. A physician can spot any latent injuries that are not a problem now, but may be a serious problem later.
Many attorneys have a nickname for the effects of the SOL, but it should not be repeated on a family-friendly website.
Determining Liability in Car Crash Cases
Somewhat similarly, many people think that “fault” and “liability” are the same thing. In most cases, that’s true. But there are some exceptions.
The police accident report is usually one of the most important pieces of evidence in a car crash claim. Insurance companies almost always use the report to determine fault. But the police accident report is not always 100 percent reliable.
Even the most experienced first responder is not a professional accident reconstructionist, so there are almost always some flaws.
For example, police officers do not write these reports straightaway. They may wait several hours, or even several days. By that time, some key memories have faded. Additionally, if the victim was killed or seriously injured, the accident report probably only contains one side of the story.
Some legal doctrines may come into play as well in a complex car crash claim. The last clear chance rule is a good illustration. This doctrine often comes up in head-on crashes, like the one in the above story, as well as rear-end crashes.
Occasionally, one driver has a reasonable chance to avoid a collision, perhaps by changing lanes. If a driver has such an opportunity and does not take advantage of it, that driver is legally responsible for the crash.
So, if the teen driver in the above story had a chance to avoid the oncoming car but did not do so, that driver is liable for all damages.
Significantly, there is a difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. Sometimes, the opportunity to avoid a crash is only theoretical. For example, if traffic is moderate or heavy, a sudden emergency lane change might not be an option.
Third Party Liability
Georgia has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. Lawmakers usually back low minimums because that keeps rates lower. But the low minimum means that, in catastrophic injury cases, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) may not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation.
Fortunately, Georgia also has some of the broadest third-party liability rules in the country. These rules give victim/plaintiffs additional sources of recovery.
When a teen driver causes a car crash, the negligent entrustment doctrine usually applies. People under 18 cannot own vehicles or other property. So, these individuals always borrow another person’s vehicle. These owners are vicariously liable for damages if they allow incompetent drivers to use their vehicles and these individuals cause car crashes. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- Invalid or no drivers’ license,
- Violation of a driver’s’ license restriction, like no nighttime driving, and
- A bad driving record.
Damages in a car crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
Even seemingly straightforward car crashes involve complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.