Georgia Personal Injury (Tort) Law Basics
Under the Georgia civil justice system, a civil wrong (called a “tort”) is remedied by a plaintiff asserting a claim and maintaining an action against a defendant. Personal injury tort law in Georgia is based upon the concepts of foreseeability and accountability. In other words, a defendant’s liability to a plaintiff is grounded in the rule of cause and effect.
There are two (2) basic types of torts – intentional torts and “accidental” torts arising from negligence. As the term suggests, an “intentional” tort stems from a person’s intentional conduct. (An example of an intentional tort would be a “battery” where a person intentionally and without justification punches another person breaking the other person’s jaw). Conversely, an accidental tort arises in a situation where a person, while not specifically intending to cause harm, nevertheless causes another person harm by failing to exercise due caution. (An example of such a tort would be where a person, while driving a car, takes his eyes off the road to use his cell phone and, because he has failed to maintain a proper lookout for other cars ahead, negligently and “accidentally” rear-ends the car stopped at the red light in front of him).
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In a basic tort action, four elements exist: (1) a duty, (2) a breach of the duty, (3) proximate causation and (4) damages. In order to establish liability and secure a civil, monetary recovery under Georgia law, a plaintiff must establish all four of the above-mentioned elements.
A duty is essentially a party’s responsibility to do something or not do something. For instance, a driver in Georgia has an obligation to stop his car at a Stop sign before proceeding into an intersection.
A breach of duty is essentially a party’s failure to do or not do something that is required of him under the applicable circumstances. For instance, if a driver fails to stop at a Stop sign and instead drives directly into an intersection, he has breached his affirmative duty to stop his vehicle as required by Georgia’s driving laws.
Proximate causation and damages are less distinct and more intertwined. Proximate causation is the natural and actual consequence of a breach of duty. Stated another way, proximate causation is the bridge between one party’s breach of a duty and another party’s damages caused by the breach. Using the example of the negligent motorist referenced above, if a driver (in breaching his duty to stop at the Stop sign) wrecks into the side of another vehicle lawfully passing through the intersection and the impact injures the other motorist, the breaching driver has caused (“proximate causation”) the damages (bodily injuries) of the other motorist.
Damages (also referred to as “losses”) are the end result of a breach of duty. Essentially the breach and the damages are linked together by proximate cause. Generally speaking, under Georgia law the prescribed method for calculating personal injury damages is monetary compensation. In other words, when one party breaches an existing duty and causes harm to another person, the remedy is for the breaching party to pay the damaged party an amount of damages designed to make the injured party whole.
Damages in a personal injury action essentially come in three basic forms, special, general and punitive damages:
- Special damages (such as healthcare expenses, lost earnings, etc.)
- General damages (such as lifestyle compromises, physical pain, mental/emotional suffering, etc.)
- Punitive damages (basically a civil “fine” designed to punish a wrongdoer for committing a given act/omission)
In Georgia, these damages are typically established by exact proof (like wage calculations).
In Georgia, these damages are typically established by the “enlightened conscience” of a jury applying its collective common sense, experience and human emotion to the facts in a particular case.
In Georgia, the amount of these damages is somewhat regulated by statute and the issuance of punitive damages must be warranted by clear and convincing evidence as determined by a jury.
The Dow Firm, P.C. understands the Georgia civil justice system and specializes in motor vehicle, healthcare, premises and other injury and death claims. Contact the firm today via this short form or call (912) 264-1919 for a free consultation.