Determining Negligence in a Car Accident When Each Party Blames the Other

Negligence exists under Georgia law whenever a person breaches a “legal duty to conform” to a specified legal standard, and as a result, another person suffers an injury or loss. In the context of a car accident, for example, a person may be negligent if he or she fails to follow the rules of the road, thereby causing an accident that injures another driver or damages their vehicle. Indeed, many personal injury cases come down to establishing which driver’s actions were responsible for the accident.

Newsome v. LinkAmerica Express, Inc.

In a recent case, a divided Georgia Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit arising from an accident where a car hit a parked tractor trailer. Both parties—the driver and the tractor trailer owner—claimed the other party’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. The trial court sided with the defendant, while a majority of the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff should at least be permitted to argue his case before a jury.

According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the plaintiff was driving one morning in Macon “when sunshine coming through his windshield briefly blinded him.” He slowed down but continued to drive, during which time he struck the defendant’s tractor trailer. The trailer was parked next to a curb on a residential street.

The tractor trailer’s driver lived in an adjacent house and “routinely” parked the trailer there. A police officer arrived at the scene of the accident and issued a citation to the tractor trailer driver for illegally “parking outside a residential district.” The officer’s report indicated the driver could have parked his trailer off the roadway, but instead kept it on the street where it “impeded the free passage of traffic.” The police had previously cited the tractor trailer driver a year earlier following a similar accident.

A trial court rejected this evidence and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Court of Appeals, by a 6-1 vote, reversed and returned the case for trial. The majority held there was “a genuine issue of material fact” as to whether the trailer driver’s negligence caused the accident. The dissenting judge argued the trailer was legally parked, notwithstanding the officer’s citation, so therefore the defendant did not breach any duty of care. But the majority said there was still a question as to whether the trailer “impeded the flow of traffic on the day of the accident.”

The dissenting judge also accepted the defendant’s claim that it was the plaintiff’s negligence – specifically, his decision to “drive hundreds of feet completely blinded by sunlight” – that should be treated as the “sole proximate cause of the accident.” The majority “strongly” disagreed with reaching such a conclusion at this stage of the case. Even if the plaintiff may be partly (or wholly) at fault, that was a matter for the jury to decide.

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