In order to successfully bring a claim for negligence under Georgia law, the plaintiff must be able to plead and prove the following elements: the existence of a duty of care on the part of the defendant, a breach of that duty, causation linking the breach to the alleged injury, and identifiable damages resulting from that alleged breach. These elements apply to most personal injury cases, including a lawsuit for injuries arising from a motor vehicle accident. In order to maximize your potential recovery for damages from injuries sustained in a car accident, you are strongly encouraged to consult with an experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area.
While each element is an integral and necessary part of a negligence case, the issue of causation is particularly important. Causation or “proximate cause” requires evidence of “a legally attributable causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the alleged injury.”
According to Georgia law, the mere possibility of causation is not sufficient. And in some cases, it is not clear what caused a plaintiff’s injuries. In a recent car accident case, Elder v. Hayes (Ga. Ct. of App. 2016), the plaintiffs (a driver and three other occupants) were rear-ended by a truck, causing it to spin out of control (the first collision) and ultimately crash into the defendant’s vehicle (the second collision).
A collision reconstruction team conducted an investigation of the incident and concluded that the truck following too closely behind the plaintiff caused the accident, and they assigned no fault to the plaintiffs or the defendant. The plaintiffs brought this action for personal injury and wrongful death against both the driver of the truck and the defendant. This case did not address any claims against the driver of the truck. The defendant moved for summary judgment to dismiss the claims, arguing that there was no evidence that his negligence (if any existed) proximately caused the plaintiffs’ injuries.
The trial court denied the motion, concluding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to the issue of causation. The defendant appealed, contending that the court erred in denying his motion because there was no evidence on the record that any negligent act of his contributed to the first collision, and there was also no evidence that his conduct proximately caused injuries to the plaintiffs in the second collision.
The court of appeals looked at the evidence in the case, including the testimony of the parties involved in the accident, and Georgia law on the issue of causation. The court concluded that the evidence presented did not show that the defendant caused the first collision. Specifically, the court noted that neither the location of his car nor any actions taken by him proximately caused the accident. Therefore, the court ruled that the lower court erred by failing to award the defendant summary judgment. As for the plaintiffs’ second theory of liability, the court concluded that it was unclear from the evidence whether the plaintiffs’ injuries resulted from the first or second collision. Since this unclear – circumstantial – evidence would require a jury to speculate about how and when the plaintiffs sustained the injuries, the court determined that the trial court should not have denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The failure to adequately prove causation in this case led to the court’s ultimate decision and left the plaintiffs without recourse against the defendant. To avoid such an outcome in any car accident lawsuit, the injured party is encouraged to discuss the case with an experienced local injury attorney. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury lawyer with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another party’s negligence in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
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