Comparative Negligence in Wrongful Death Cases in Georgia

Under OCGA § 51-12-33 (g), Georgia does not allow a tort plaintiff to receive damages if the jury finds the plaintiff was 50% or more responsible for injury or damages. In a recent wrongful death case the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the grounds that the decedent was at least 50% responsible for his own death.
Summary judgment takes a case away from the jury where there are no material factual disputes, and a case can be decided as a matter of law. The plaintiff argued that the trial court had erred in not allowing the jury to consider this issue. The court explained that the defendant had parked a tractor-trailer by a metal guardrail on the right side emergency lane on I-285 westbound.
The defendant had driven the amount of hours he was allowed as a commercial truck driver and fell asleep in his truck. About an hour later, the decedent was driving southbound on I-75 in the rain. He had been drinking alcohol, and later it was determined he had a BAC of .095. While driving into a curve, he lost control of his car, turned his wheel, and hit the guardrail. He also hit the rear of the parked tractor-trailer, ruptured the gas tank, and caused a fire.
The fire consumed the decedent’s car. The defendant was cited with improper parking. He later forfeited his bond. The surviving parents of the decedent filed a wrongful death lawsuit. They argued there would not have been a death but for the illegally parked tractor-trailer. The trial court concluded from the facts that it was obvious the decedent’s own negligence was equal to or more than that of the defendant. Accordingly he and his relatives were barred from pursuing damages from the defendant.
The appellate court explained that in a plain and indisputable case summary judgment on the basis of a plaintiff’s contributory negligence was appropriate. A plaintiff needs to prove a defendant’s negligence was an actual and proximate case of an injury. In this case, there was a factual issue whether the act of parking in the emergency lane was the actual cause of the decedent’s death. The record showed that the fire was caused when the undercarriage of the decedent’s car hit the trailer, and the decedent died from a combination of blunt force trauma and fire, but the record did not show whether he would have died if the tractor-trailer hadn’t been parked in an emergency lane that night. Therefore, there was a factual issue about whether the decedent would have died but for the tractor-trailer’s illegal parking.
Both the decedent and the defendant had violated traffic laws. But, at a minimum, there were factual issues about each party’s negligence in connection with the crash and degree to which each party was at fault for the decedent’s injuries and death. It was also questionable whether the decedent was plainly and indisputably 50% or more responsible. The appellate court reversed.
If you are hurt or a loved one is killed due to negligence, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.
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