Each year in Georgia, thousands of motorists are seriously injured or killed on the roadways throughout the state. And the rate of traffic injuries and fatalities has been increasing steadily over the last several years.
Some of the increase may be due to a growing population that’s putting more cars on the state’s roads. But most of the accidents are caused by drivers who choose to engage in risky driving behaviors – disregarding traffic safety and not appreciating the potential consequences of their actions.
At Joel Thrift Law, LLC, our car accident attorney understands how a car accident can disrupt every aspect of a person’s life. We help injured clients understand their legal rights and recover the damages they are entitled to receive. We provide the counsel and support our clients need to get them through a difficult time and move forward with their lives.
The Frequency of Car Accidents in the Atlanta Metro Area
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported 1,664 fatalities from traffic accidents in 2020. Georgia had the 4th highest number of traffic fatalities in the nation behind the big three – California, Texas, and Florida. Fatal motor vehicle accidents were up 12% from 2019 and reached their highest numbers since 2011.
Traffic fatalities were also up in the 10 counties composing the Atlanta Region. There was a 57% increase in fatal traffic crashes between 2014 and 2020. The following increases were recorded comparing 2020 to 2019:
- 513 traffic fatalities – up 6%
- 303 fatalities were occupants of passenger vehicles – up 14%
- 123 fatalities were unrestrained occupants of passenger vehicles – up 46%
- 66 fatalities involving large trucks – up 14%
At 7,606, serious injury traffic accidents in Georgia in 2020 were the highest number in five years and represented a 46% increase since 2016. Almost half of those seriously injured were occupants of cars. Another 30% were occupants of trucks or light SUVs.
When Car Accidents are More Likely to Happen
Although car accidents can occur at any time of day or under any environmental circumstances, there are certain objective factors that are observed at the time of a crash and are therefore associated with a greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.
With regard to fatal or serious injury car accidents, the following conditions are associated most frequently with crashes in 2020:
- Good weather
- Time between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.
- Day of the week – Saturday
- Period of the week – weekend
- Month – August
- Holiday – July 4
Who is Most Likely to be Involved in a Car Accident
What seems to hold true for all types of vehicles driven under all kinds of conditions is that young male drivers are the most likely to be involved in traffic accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports males typically drive more than females and are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors.
Male drivers are more than twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes as females. Male drivers are also more likely to be legally drunk and speeding when a fatal accident occurs.
Both males and females under age 30 have the highest number of fatal accidents per mile driven.
The Leading Causes of Auto Accidents in Georgia
No matter how safely a person drives and how much attention they pay, there is usually no way to anticipate the behavior of other drivers. Most of the circumstances that lead to crashes are the result of choices made by a driver to engage in unsafe or risky driving behavior.
The Traffic Safety Facts sheet from the Governor’s Office for Highway Safety identifies the following risky driving behaviors as the main contributing factors in crashes and injuries in 2020:
- Failure to use appropriate restraint system – unrestrained
- Alcohol impairment
- Drug use
- Distracted/inattentive driving
- Drowsy driving
Almost 50% of all fatal accidents involve a driver impaired by alcohol or drugs. Speed was the main contributing factor in close to 25% of the fatalities. At least one person was unrestrained in 46% of the fatal crashes.
Typical Collision Points in Car Accidents
Where a vehicle is damaged by a crash impact can influence the type of injuries the occupants’ experience. In addition, the relative size and weight of the vehicles affect the severity of damage to the vehicles, which can further affect the severity of the injuries.
In the Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report Tables published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Table 29 shows the following types of impact as the first harmful event in collisions with vehicles in transport:
- Head on
- Rear end
Head-on and angle impacts result in about 80% of all fatal collisions. Angle impacts result in the most fatalities and the most injuries. Rear-end collisions are more likely to result in injuries than fatalities.
Driving Maneuvers Associated with Crashes
Just before a collision happens between motor vehicles, the drivers were attempting some type of driving maneuver on the roadway. The Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report Tables, Table 40, shows the top five vehicle maneuvers resulting in fatality accidents.
- Going straight
- Negotiating a curve
- Turning left
- Passing or overtaking another vehicle
- Merging or changing lanes
About 63% of fatal accidents and close to 60% of injury accidents occur between vehicles that are going straight. Negotiating curves results in a disproportionate number of fatal accidents. Turning left is more likely to result in an injury accident than a fatality.
How to Protect Yourself after a Car Accident
Things can get a little crazy after being involved in a car accident. The shock of the incident may prevent people from thinking clearly about the situation while right in the middle of it. Dealing with injuries and preventing further injuries is an obvious priority but once the immediate danger has been addressed, there are things a person should do to protect themselves in future legal action.
The Georgia traffic code requires that an accident be reported to police as quickly as possible after it happens if anyone is injured or property damage exceeds $500. Most accidents will require the police to make a report. A police report is considered an objective record of the events and can be useful in establishing fault for the crash.
While the police investigation can be helpful, it is also a good idea to try and gather your own information before leaving the accident scene. If possible, take pictures of the crash site and the damage to the vehicles. Note any contributing circumstances like lighting, road conditions, or weather. Obtain contact information from all other persons involved – including witnesses.
Except for gathering and providing the required information, it’s best to keep quiet. It’s unwise to volunteer unnecessary information or make any sort of admission that could be interpreted as fault. Injuries are not always realized right after an accident so it’s not a good idea to deny any injuries before seeing a doctor as it can work against you when later injuries are discovered.
Getting a medical evaluation soon after an accident helps to establish a connection between the crash and any claimed injuries. The medical records are important for proving the injuries were caused by the accident in a later personal injury claim.
Be discreet when sharing information about the accident or your injuries until any legal action has been resolved. Think of your claim as a business matter requiring confidentiality. The less information broadcast to the world, the less information that may pop up unexpectedly and create problems later.
Be prepared before talking to an insurance adjuster. Do some research beforehand to find out what you can expect when dealing with an insurance company and how to best prepare. Get legal advice if you think it’s necessary. You do not want to be caught off guard and you don’t want to be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, both of those things can happen.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Injuries from a car accident can be as diverse as the circumstances causing the accident. However, because of the positioning of passenger vehicle occupants and the safety features of cars, certain kinds of injuries are more frequently seen in car accidents.
- Spinal column damage – vertebrae, discs
- Spinal cord damage – nerve damage
- Internal organ damage/bleeding
- Brain injury
Injuries to the brain or the spinal cord can be quite serious and may result in permanent cognitive impairment or physical limitations. Internal injuries – including brain trauma – are not readily apparent but can quickly become life-threatening without immediate medical treatment.
Making a Personal Injury Claim
All drivers have a duty to drive safely for the benefit of all other drivers. When a driver fails to adequately perform the duty to drive safely and someone gets injured as a result, the injured party is allowed to collect compensation from the wrongdoer for the damage done.
Before an injured person can prevail with their claim, they must prove the conduct of the wrongdoer caused most of their damage. Liability is based on fault in Georgia and the determination of fault can have a direct impact on the ability of an injured person to recover compensation.
Damage amounts must also be calculated. Out-of-pocket costs and lost income are recoverable as are amounts for the suffering and limitations experienced because of the injuries. Some of these figures are easy to arrive at and others are harder to quantify.
Typically this information is put together in proposal form by an attorney and submitted to an insurance company as a demand letter – an initial offer of settlement. Negotiations may continue from this point until an equitable settlement is reached. If a settlement cannot be reached, a lawsuit may be the next step.
Why Determining Fault is Critical in a Personal Injury Claim
Determining who was at fault for an accident is the first big hurdle in a personal injury claim. In Georgia, a percentage of fault is assigned to all drivers involved in an accident. If an injured person is found at fault, the percentage of fault can either reduce the amount of compensation that can be recovered or it can bar recovery entirely.
Georgia law (GA Code § 51-12-33) states that a person cannot recover any damages if they are 50% or more at fault for the claimed injuries. Any percentage of fault less than 50% will be used to proportionately reduce any compensation for injuries.
The apportioning of fault is based on an interpretation of the events leading to the accident. It’s in the best interests of someone looking to recover damages to demonstrate their participation in the accident in such a way as to avoid or minimize fault.
How Does Failing to Wear a Seatbelt Affect an Injury Claim?
Failing to wear a seatbelt (while in the front seat of a car) is against the law in Georgia. However, an injured person is not prevented from making a claim against the at-fault drivers just because the law was broken.
Where being ‘unrestrained’ can affect a claim for personal injury is in the determination of the amount of damages to be awarded for the injuries. A person is not allowed to recover damages for injuries they caused or exacerbated by their conduct. Compensation may be reduced if wearing a seatbelt would have minimized or prevented the claimed injuries.
Damages Compensated after a Car Accident
Personal injury damages are ‘special’ and ‘general.’ Special damages compensate for financial losses that directly result from the accident, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.
General damages are nonfinancial losses and are based on the experience of the injured person. People may be compensated for the damage that is consequential to injuries sustained in an accident, such as pain & suffering, mental anguish, and diminished quality of life.
Another category of damages may sometimes be awarded but not to compensate for injuries. Punitive damages are intended as punishment to a wrongdoer whose conduct demonstrates a greater degree of malice. Punitive damages must be requested before they will be awarded and are capped at $250,000.
Who Pays for Personal Injury Damages?
A personal injury claim is made against the party responsible for causing the damage but in most car accident cases an insurance company will pay the damages on behalf of the wrongdoer.
All drivers are required to take financial responsibility for the damage they cause while driving. For most drivers, this means purchasing liability auto insurance that meets the state’s minimum requirements. The minimum auto liability insurance limits for bodily injury in Georgia are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
When serious injuries are involved $25,000 may not cover all of the claimed damages. In that case, the wrongdoer may be personally liable for the difference. When a wrongdoer does not have insurance or not enough insurance to cover all of the damages, an injured person might be able to collect additional compensation from their own insurance company.
Uninsured motorist coverage is an optional coverage that can be purchased and is intended to provide compensation when an at-fault motorist has inadequate liability insurance. Making an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance company is no easier than making the claim against the wrongdoer’s company. The process is adversarial and the claim must still be proven in order to collect compensation.
When to Get Legal Advice from a Conyers Auto Accident Attorney
Getting into a car accident can be a major disruption in a person’s life. There are insurance adjusters to deal with. There are injuries to treat. Time missed from work. Activities put off. Although car accidents happen frequently, no one is really prepared to deal with everything that comes in the aftermath. It can become overwhelming.
Help is available. Unless injuries and damages are quite minor, it doesn’t make sense to try and go it alone against insurance companies and their legal teams. You need someone on your side who knows the laws, knows how the game is played, and can level the playing field so your interests are adequately represented.
Many car accident attorneys offer free consultations. This is an opportunity to get a legal opinion about your situation and some valuable information that can be used for your benefit. It is also a safe place to ask questions if you are concerned about particular matters, as the meetings are confidential. You can find out how a lawyer might be able to help without financial obligation.
The Conyers law firm of Joel Thrift Law, LLC, has been representing clients injured in auto accidents in Metro Atlanta for more than 15 years. The car accident attorney offers a no-obligation consultation to help people better understand their legal situations and provide them with the resources they need to make informed choices.
If you have questions or need help after a car accident, contact Joel Thrift Law, LLC to book your free consultation.