Negligence can arise in a wide variety of situations, whether at home, on the road, or out in public. In all scenarios, however, certain fundamental elements of a negligence claim must be met. A plaintiff must establish that a defendant had a duty to prevent harm to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the injuries that the plaintiff suffered. Without these important elements, a plaintiff cannot hold a defendant liable, no matter how terrible the injuries were that were suffered. While these requirements may seem onerous, they serve an important function of ensuring that defendants are held liable for damages that they definitely caused, or could have prevented, but not for accidents outside their control. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court took a look at circumstances in which it was less than clear that the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
In this pedestrian accident case, E.P. was hit by a car driven by H.X. while walking late at night. Although it was dark out at the time, E.P. was wearing only black clothing and did not have a light with her while she crossed. Additionally, although there was an intersection nearby, E.P. chose to cross outside the cross-walk and intersection, believing it would be safer. As she crossed the busy street, she saw H.X.’s car approaching her. She believed that she had sufficient time to cross the street anyway and proceeded onward. After reaching the median, E.P. noticed that H.X.’s car was approaching quickly but continued to cross the street, looking straight ahead and not at H.X.’s car. H.X. struck E.P. shortly before she completed crossing the street. Although police responded to the scene, they concluded that E.P. had darted into traffic before the accident and that H.X. had not seen her. E.P. was cited, but H.X. was not.
Nevertheless, E.P. filed a lawsuit against H.X. and her underinsured motorist carrier, seeking damages for the injuries that she experienced from the accident. Both the insurer and H.X. moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no evidence to suggest that H.X. had been negligent in hitting E.P. The trial court granted the motions for summary judgment, without comment, and E.P. appealed.
On appeal, E.P. argued that it was an error for the court to grant the motions for summary judgment. The appeals court, however, disagreed. It noted that under Georgia law, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a legal duty to protect the plaintiff from an unreasonable risk of harm to prove negligence. The mere fact that an accident happened is not enough to create a legal duty under Georgia’s negligence laws. Additionally, since the plaintiff had the burden to show that such a duty did exist, the court held that the failure to establish a duty was not a detriment to the defendant but was fatal to the plaintiff’s claim. Specifically, in this case, the court noted that E.P. was wearing entirely black on the night she was hit, did not cross the road at an intersection, and was not paying attention to H.X.’s car as she crossed, and H.X. did not notice E.P. as she crossed the road. Under these circumstances, the court held that H.X. was under no duty to E.P., and a grant of summary judgment was appropriate. The court affirmed.
Accidents occur all the time. Sometimes they are simply that – accidents in which no one party can be said to be at fault. Other times, accidents occur because an individual failed to do something, did something incorrectly, or blatantly ignored warnings about potentially dangerous harms that could occur. In these latter situations, a defendant may have a duty to a plaintiff that has been breached, and a negligence lawsuit may be necessary to ensure that a victim receives the justice and compensation that he or she deserves. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury attorney with over 20 years of experience handling negligence and personal injury lawsuits, particularly car accident cases, and regularly represents individuals and pedestrians who have been harmed 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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