Articles Posted in Blog

You’ve probably heard of punitive damages before, most likely through a high-profile verdict against a defendant who is seen by the public as having deep pockets. Punitive damages are controversial because the purpose of a civil action is to compensate the plaintiff, not to punish the defendant. Punishment of defendants is usually reserved for the criminal courts. However, punitive damages are intended to do just that–to punish the defendant when their behavior has been particularly vicious by awarding the plaintiff monetary awards that are greater than the amount necessary purely for compensation.

To understand how punitive damages work, we’ll need to take a quick look at how damages are awarded in a civil lawsuit.

Compensatory Damages

In most personal injury lawsuits, the reason why the plaintiff was injured usually boils down to negligence. Negligence requires a showing of a duty owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. In most cases, the duty owed is that of a “reasonably prudent person.” When the defendant’s conduct falls below that standard, he or she has breached this duty. Once the plaintiff establishes that his or her injuries were caused by this breach, a case of negligence has been established.

The compensation the plaintiff receives—known as “damages” in legal parlance—is the amount of money necessary to compensate the victim for the injury and to make him whole, as if the accident had never happened. However, this classic conception of negligence assumes that the defendant was totally at fault for the accident and that the plaintiff was blameless. What happens if the plaintiff was also partially at fault for the accident? In these cases, the courts developed the legal doctrines of contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

Contributory Negligence

Driving is an inherently dangerous activity. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over three million people are injured every year in vehicle accidents in the United States. Some of these injuries are fairly minor, but, depending on the severity of the accident, can require extensive hospitalization and recovery time.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of injuries that can arise from car accidents.


No one is ever truly prepared for a car accident—you’re simply driving along, maybe listening to your favorite song, and out of nowhere your life changes in an instant. Although every accident is different, there are some important steps you need to take after you’ve been involved in one to make sure that the police and insurance companies have all of the information they need to make a determination of fault and compensate the victims. If an accident is particularly serious, you may even need to hire an attorney.

Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take immediately after an accident and when you might want to consider hiring an attorney.

What to Do After a Car Accident

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require registered drivers to carry auto insurance. This is to guarantee that anyone injured in an auto accident will be appropriately compensated. Georgia’s auto insurance system is based upon fault, meaning that at-fault drivers are liable for personal injury or property damage resulting from an accident, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company will satisfy the liability. This is in contrast to “no-fault” systems, in which each driver’s insurance covers its own policyholder, regardless of fault

If you are injured in an automobile accident, there are three ways to seek compensation:

  • File a claim with your own insurance company, which will then seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company

Any type of car accident can be potentially deadly, but vehicle rollovers are among the most dangerous. While they are relatively rare, accounting for only about three percent of all crashes, they account for about 30% of people who are killed while riding a vehicle. Many people believe that rollovers only affect SUVs and large vans, but a rollover can happen in any vehicle under the right circumstances.

How it Happens

As we said above, any vehicle can roll over but these types of crashes are much more common to tall, narrow vehicles like SUVs, vans, and trucks because these vehicles have higher centers of gravity than sedans and coupes. Rollovers are most common in turns because what happens when a car rolls over is essentially a pendulum effect. When a car makes a turn, sideways forces shift the center of gravity to one side. The faster you’re driving, the stronger these forces are. If these forces become too strong, they can cause a vehicle to roll over.


The Georgia Commercial Driver’s License Manual (GCDLM) is an excellent reference. The GCDLM is a Georgia-specific version of the FMCSA-approved Commercial Driver’s License Manual published by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) and used in states throughout the country. It is available for download free of charge from the Georgia Department of Driver Services website. The GCDLM deals with selected areas of the FMCSRs and the Georgia Rules of the Road. It provides practical, user-friendly analysis of CMV operation and includes many tables and illustrations that lend themselves for use as demonstrative aids at trial. The book is aimed at those who operate or, more importantly, want to learn to operate, a CMV. Therefore, it is written with an emphasis on explaining what a driver needs to know in a down-to-earth fashion free of legalese.

Oftentimes in depositions, counsel will attempt to cross-examine a CMV driver about his knowledge of the intricacies of the FMCSRs. Rarely, if ever, is the Manual used to address an act or omission of the driver. This is a mistake. For example, the Manual provides sample “Test Your Knowledge” questions at the end of each section. These can serve as built-in deposition questions. The driver’s answers will help educate you and your expert on his knowledge and ability to safely operate a CMV. A driver is far more likely to have reviewed the GCDLM (or a similar version used in his state of licensing), rather than the FMCSRs, when learning to drive and training to obtain his CDL.

Turn and Stop Signals

The Georgia Rules of the Road require one turning, changing lanes, or stopping to give an “appropriate and timely signal” signal of their intention to do so. Likewise, a driver may only turn at an intersection or change lanes when properly positioned to do so, and when the movement can be accomplished with “reasonable safety.” Signals for turning may not be used to indicate “do pass” to following vehicles. Note that hand/arm signals or signal lights may be used, except when certain vehicle dimensions exceed a stated limit. It is therefore highly unlikely that hand signals by a CMV driver will comply with the Rules of the Road. Note that the code prohibits a vehicle from entering a center turning lane more than 300 feet from the point at which a left turn across one or more lanes of oncoming traffic is planned to occur.

These rules may have particular resonance for accidents involving CMVs. Lane change accidents are frequent in the trucking industry. In their defense, it may be said that, to a significant portion of the driving public, a CMV signal represents a “green flag” to pass the CMV before it can change lanes. Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeals has held that the purpose of the signal statutes is to make other drivers aware of lane changes and turns in order to prevent accidents. However, it has also been held that a left turn signal is not required of a vehicle in a left-turn-only lane. Violation of turning laws may constitute negligence per se.

Duties When Involved in an Accident

A number of statutes govern the duty of drivers involved in accidents. Of course, the law prohibits a driver involved in an accident from leaving the scene, i.e., a “hit and run.” The code requires a driver involved in an accident which results in injury or death to another, or damage to a vehicle, to immediately stop at the scene or “as close thereto as possible.”  In that situation, a driver must both provide information and render aid. The code section also requires a driver to remain at the scene until the these requirements are met and goes on to state that “[e]very such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary”. Note that, a first conviction for leaving the scene of an accident will disqualify a CMV driver for 1 year.

The statute is not limited to those whose vehicles actually make contact in an accident. Rather, the question is whether the driver is “involved.” In Bellamy v. Edwards, the Court of Appeals held that a jury was authorized to find that a defendant engaged with others in the joint enterprise of drag racing was thereby “involved” in a collision that took place as a result, despite the fact that his vehicle was not part of the actual collision. Accordingly, the trial court was held to have properly charged the jury as to the statutory duties of comply with regulation.

Stopping, Standing, or Parking

Stopping, standing or parking a vehicle is prohibited except at the certain locations specified within the statute, except “when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or official traffic-control device.  For example, stopping standing or parking is prohibited on a sidewalk or crosswalk, within an intersection, on a controlled-access highway.  The statute lists numerous other areas where stopping is prohibited, restricted, or time-limited. Reference to its specific language is necessary whenever addressing a fact pattern which includes a stopped vehicle. The statute has been held to past constitutional muster and not void for vagueness.  Stopping in a prohibited location may constitute negligence per se.

Approaching and Entering Intersections

Contact Information