Motor Vehicle Accident FAQs
Asked by Motorists Involved in a Car or Motorcycle Accident
The Atlanta trial lawyers at Ragland Law Firm, LLC have considerable experience handling cases involving car, truck and motorcycle accidents. Below, they have provided answers to frequently asked questions by persons who have been injured or had a family member killed in a motor vehicle accident. These attorneys also answer questions they are frequently asked about their legal practice and experience representing plaintiffs in the pursuit of personal injury and wrongful death claims or lawsuits against the parties whose negligence caused or contributed to a car or motorcycle crash.
1. Where are you located and what areas do you serve?
We are Atlanta based Georgia trial lawyers and serve all metropolitan Atlanta areas. Our law offices are located in the Perimeter Mall area of Dunwoody, Georgia. We are in the “South Terraces” office building which is just 2 to 3 minutes from the intersection of I-285 and Ashford Dunwoody Road. Our law firm location is especially convenient for persons living in Dunwoody, Norcross, Alpharetta, Roswell, Johns Creek, Sandy Springs, Tucker and Duluth, Georgia, and many of our car accident clients come from these areas. We have provided Driving Directions for your convenience. The auto accident lawyers at Ragland Law Firm, LLC regularly handle motorcycle and car accident cases arising from a collision or crash that took place in the areas of Tucker, Chamblee, Norcross, Duluth, Johns Creek, Roswell, Alpharetta, Cumming and Sandy Springs, Georgia. As a result, we frequently litigate motor vehicle accident lawsuits in the State and Superior Courts of Fulton County, DeKalb County, Gwinnett County and Forsyth County, Georgia. We also handle cases involving car or motorcycle accidents that take place in other metro Atlanta areas such as Smyrna, Marietta, Mableton, College Park, Decatur, Stone Mountain, Lithonia, Jonesboro and Forest Park, Georgia. As a result, we do have experience pursuing automobile accident lawsuits in the courts of Cobb County and Clayton County, Georgia. We invite you to contact us if you have a need for an experienced auto accident lawyer due to injuries or a fatality suffered in a car or motorcycle crash.
2. Does your law firm accept motor vehicle accident cases involving crashes that take place outside of the metro Atlanta area?
Yes. We have a statewide practice, and we often represent car accident victims outside of the metro Atlanta area. In situations where a motor vehicle accident has resulted in a fatality or serious injury, the trial attorneys at Ragland Law Firm, LLC are qualified and willing to pursue personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits anywhere in Georgia including Carrollton, Calhoun, Rome, Dalton, Toccoa, Thomaston, LaGrange, Winder, Monroe, Covington, Milledgeville, Dublin, Statesboro, Warner Robins, and Albany, Georgia. Contact us if you were involved in a fatal or serious injury crash in these or other areas of Georgia, and want to discuss your case with a qualified auto accident lawyer. Visit our Case Results page to learn more about some of the motor vehicle accident cases successfully handled by the personal injury attorneys at Ragland Law Firm, LLC.
3. After a motor vehicle accident, how can I obtain a copy of the police report?
Most police agencies in Georgia use the “Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Report” when they respond to a car, truck or motorcycle accident in this state. Regardless of whether the accident is investigated by the Georgia State Patrol, a city or county police department, or by a county sheriff’s department, the responding patrol officer or deputy sheriff will likely fill out and submit a “Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Report.” Generally, anyone involved in the accident is entitled to obtain a copy of that report by simply requesting it from the police agency whose officer prepared it. Persons not involved in the accident also have a right to obtain the report pursuant to Georgia’s Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70). Each local police or sheriff’s department has its own policies about how a motorist can request and obtain a copy of the report. Usually, the police or sheriff’s department will allow the motorist to obtain the report by mailing a written request, submitting a request form via e-mail over the internet, in person at the police office, or some combination of these methods. You should contact the police agency which responded to your crash and find out how to request the police report. The report usually will not be available until 3-5 days after the accident, and there will be a charge (usually $5.00) to obtain a copy of the report. These accident reports can also be obtained from the Crash Reporting Unit of the Georgia Department of Transportation. The Georgia State Patrol and all local police agencies are supposed to send all Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reports to the Georgia Department of Transportation. The telephone number for the Georgia DOT Crash Reporting Unit is (404) 635-8109. To obtain an accident report from the Georgia DOT, a motorist must write a letter requesting the report and mail it to the Crash Reporting Unit at 935 East Confederate Ave., Atlanta, Georgia, 30316. The cost is $5.00. The letter must include a certified check or money order for the $5.00 charge.
4. Should I report the accident to my own auto insurance company even if the accident was not my fault?
Yes. As soon as possible, you or someone on your behalf should notify your own insurance company about the accident. Let your insurer know when and where the accident took place, and what vehicles were involved. Also, identify all persons who sustained injuries and report any fatalities. Most auto policies require that their insureds notify the company about any accidents, especially those involving a fatality or injuries to a driver or passenger. Even if the accident was caused by the negligence of another driver, there may be certain coverages – such as Med Pay, PIP, and/or uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) – which may provide coverages or benefits to an injured motorist or the family of a person killed in the crash. Such coverages or benefits could be forfeited if the policyholder or someone else does not give timely notification of the accident to the insurance company. While not necessarily required, faxing or mailing the police report to the insurance company is always a good idea. If you were injured, or your family member was killed while riding as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, notification of the accident should be made to both the auto insurer covering the vehicle and to the company which provided insurance on your or your family member’s own vehicle.
5. The negligent driver’s auto insurance company has asked me to fill out and sign certain forms, and to give its adjuster a recorded statement. Should I do these things?
No. You are under no obligation to cooperate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Its job is to protect and defend the interests of its insured, and it is not there to help those who were injured or killed by the negligent driving of its policyholder. Unless you have first consulted with a qualified car accident lawyer, it would be advisable not to give a written or recorded statement, not to fill out or provide any questionnaires or other forms, and not to sign any documents provided by the other driver’s insurance company. Any statements or documents you give may later be used against you if the case has to be litigated.
6. Can I settle my case without having to file a lawsuit?
Yes. Sometimes a pre-suit settlement can be negotiated with the negligent driver or his auto insurance company. In car accident cases, we are often able to achieve a favorable settlement without ever having to file a lawsuit. However, for many reasons, pre-suit settlements are not always possible, and the filing of a lawsuit is frequently necessary. Sometimes, a lawsuit must be filed because the statute of limitations is about to expire and there is not enough time to attempt to reach a pre-suit settlement with an insurance company. In addition, we sometimes recommend that a lawsuit be filed immediately because of concern that the defendant may move away making it more difficult to locate and serve him with the lawsuit papers in the future. More frequently, a lawsuit becomes necessary because the other driver’s insurance company denies liability or refuses to offer a fair settlement amount.
7. If no pre-suit settlement is reached, can I sue the negligent driver’s insurance company?
No. In a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, any driver whose negligence caused or contributed to a motorcycle or automobile accident can be named as a defendant. However, Georgia law prohibits any insurance company providing liability coverage to that negligent driver from being named as a defendant in a lawsuit. Simply stated, the negligent driver – not his insurance company – is the proper party to any lawsuit filed by an injured motorist or by the surviving heirs of someone killed in the crash. Once a verdict at trial is obtained against the negligent driver, a claim or action can then be pursued against his/her insurance company for payment of some or all of any judgment (up to the limits of coverage stated in the liability policy). An injured party or his attorney can also deal directly with the negligent driver’s insurance company before a lawsuit is filed in an effort to obtain a pre-suit settlement which the liability insurer may be willing to pay to avoid litigation against its policyholder. There is one exception to the general prohibition against naming the at-fault driver’s liability insurer as a defendant in the lawsuit. Georgia has what is known as a “direct action” statute (O.C.G.A. § 46-7-12) which permits an insurance company to be named as a defendant in some circumstances where a large commercial truck causes the motor vehicle accident. A qualified truck accident attorney would be able to determine whether Georgia’s “direct action” statute would allow the insurance company covering the truck or its negligent driver to be named as a defendant in a trucking accident lawsuit. For more information about accidents involving tractor-trailers and other large commercial trucks, visit our Semi-Truck Accident Practice Center.
8. Can I bring a lawsuit against the other driver even if the police did not issue a ticket to him or her?
Yes. A police officer’s decision not to issue a citation to a driver does not preclude an injured motorist from pursuing a claim or civil lawsuit to recover for their injuries. The fact that a driver received no ticket from police does not establish their lack of negligence, and would be irrelevant in a civil case arising from the motor vehicle accident. The negligence of the other driver can be shown or proven in a civil personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit regardless of whether the defendant received a traffic citation or not.
9. Can I assert a civil claim or file a lawsuit against the owner of the vehicle which caused the accident?
Possibly yes. As a general rule, in Georgia, mere ownership of the at-fault vehicle does not make the owner automatically liable for accidents involving his vehicle. In other words, under Georgia law, owners of cars, trucks and motorcycles are not vicariously liable for the negligence of persons who drive their vehicles solely because of their status as owner. There are three primary exceptions to this general rule. The first is the doctrine of respondeat superior. If the owner of the vehicle is also the employer of the negligent driver, then the owner can be held vicariously liable if the accident took place while the employee was operating the vehicle during the “course and scope” of his employment. The second exception involves what is known as the family purpose doctrine. Under this doctrine, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable if the negligent driver is related to and lived with the owner at the time of the accident, and it is shown that the at-fault vehicle was provided to the owner’s “family member” for his “pleasure, comfort and convenience.” The family purpose doctrine is most often used in cases where a teenager was driving a car owned by his parents. The third exception involves claims of negligent entrustment. In these cases, the owner is held liable for negligently allowing his motor vehicle to be used by someone he knew to be an unfit, intoxicated or incompetent driver. Claims of negligent entrustment usually arise in drunk driving cases where someone loans their car to someone despite knowing they had been consuming alcohol or using drugs.
10. If the negligent driver was working at the time of the accident, can I also sue his employer?
Yes. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held vicariously liable for accidents caused by the negligent driving of its employee. Claims of vicarious liability against the employer often arise when some type of commercial vehicle or large truck is involved in the collision. However, vicarious liability can apply even if the employee is driving his own car or motorcycle. If the employee is “on the job” and functioning within the “course and scope” of his employment at the time of the accident, then his employer can be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. This is true whether the employee is operating a company owned vehicle, or he is driving his own car, truck or motorcycle.
11. How long will it take for my case to be concluded?
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to answer this question because no lawyer can consistently predict what will happen in any given case. Each case is different and there are many variables which affect how long it will take to achieve a result. For this reason, individuals should be skeptical of any lawyer who makes promises about how much money they will recover or how quickly they will achieve settlement of any case. Things which affect the timetable of when a case is concluded include whether the defendant or their insurance company accepts or disputes liability, whether a pre-suit settlement can be achieved, whether a lawsuit has to be filed, whether the case involves multiple defendants or complex factual issues, whether the case goes all the way to trial and whether there are any appeals to higher courts. Sometimes, the trial attorneys at Ragland Law Firm, LLC are able to achieve a pre-suit settlement within several months of being retained on the case. However, if litigation is required, the case may not get settled or reach trial for 1-2 years or more. If the case is especially complex or involves a trial and appeals to higher courts, the case could continue for 2-3 years or longer.
12. Is there a deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit?
Yes. Every state, including Georgia, has laws which establish the maximum amount of time a citizen has to file a lawsuit in certain types of cases. A law which sets forth the deadline for filing a certain type of civil lawsuit is called a “statute of limitations.” Each state will have their own statutes of limitations governing different types of civil cases. Therefore, the amount of time someone has to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit following a motor vehicle accident will vary from state to state. It is very important to realize that in Georgia, and every other state, there is always a limit on the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit to recover for any injuries or fatalities suffered in a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, any motorcycle or car accident victim should not delay and should take action to protect their legal rights. In particular, every citizen who believes they may have a personal injury or wrongful death case should consult with a civil trial attorney as soon as possible to preserve their legal rights before expiration of the statute of limitations. Motorists need to be aware that their claims will be extinguished once the statute of limitations has expired.
13. What is the statute of limitations for a motor vehicle accident lawsuit in Georgia?
Georgia has a two year statute of limitations generally applicable to all personal injury and wrongful death cases, including these involving a car, truck or motorcycle accident (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33). In cases of personal injury, that two year statute of limitations begins to run on the date of the crash. Therefore, the injured party (if they are an adult) must file a lawsuit on or before the second year anniversary of the accident. However, that two year statute of limitations is “tolled” (meaning it does not start to run) for persons under 18 years of age. (O.C.G.A. § 9-3-90). If a minor is injured, the two year statute of limitations does not begin to run until he or she is “emancipated” by marriage or reaching their eighteenth birthday. Stated differently, in Georgia, lawsuits involving injuries suffered by a minor are allowed to be filed up to two years after the minor becomes married or turns 18 years of age (whichever occurs first). There are other “tolling” provisions in Georgia which may also effectively extend the two year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits. Because of the many tolling provisions which may apply (depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case), the determination of when the two year statute of limitations will expire is a complex legal matter. Therefore, injured persons should always consult with a qualified civil attorney to find out whether the statute of limitations has expired on their case. To ensure the timeliness of a lawsuit, though, persons injured in a Georgia motor vehicle accident should be advised to file their lawsuit in a State or Superior Court within two years of the date the crash took place. In cases involving claims for wrongful death, Georgia’s two year statute of limitations begins to run on the date of death. Therefore, in Georgia, any wrongful death lawsuit arising from a motor vehicle accident must be filed within two years from the date the decedent died as a result of injuries he or she sustained in the crash. This two year deadline applies regardless of the age of the decedent. So, whether the person who sustained fatal injuries was a minor or an adult at the time of the crash, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of that person’s death.
14. In a personal injury lawsuit, what damages can I recover in a motor vehicle accident case?
In a personal injury case, the plaintiff can recover “compensatory” damages which include both “special” and “general” damages. Special damages include any harm which can be quantified as an actual monetary loss such as the following:
- lost wages / loss of earnings or income
- medical, doctor and hospital expenses
- expenses of physical therapy, counseling, or rehabilitation services
- the cost of travel to obtain medical care
- charges for the purchase of needed medical products or supplies, prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, etc.
- the costs to hire someone to perform housekeeping, yard work, cooking, childcare or other things the plaintiff cannot do because of their injuries.
General damages encompass all other forms of harm or injury which are not capable of precise monetary quantification. In other words, there is no “price tag” which can be put on certain aspects of the detrimental consequences attributable to the accident and resulting injuries suffered by the plaintiff. Because general damages are subjective, the amount of money to be awarded is determined by the “enlightened conscience of impartial jurors.” Examples of general damages would include:
- physical pain and suffering
- mental and emotional pain and suffering
- the shock, fear, distress and anxiety of being involved in a crash
- physical or cognitive disabilities caused by permanent injuries
- scarring, disfigurement or physical deformity
- loss of capacity to earn a living
- loss of consortium
15. In a personal injury lawsuit, can I recover punitive damages against the person whose negligent driving caused my car or motorcycle accident?
Generally no. Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. The purpose of “compensatory” damages is to fairly compensate the injured party for his actual damages and, in theory, to “make him whole.” In contrast, punitive damages have nothing to do with compensating the injured party. Rather, they are awarded in addition to compensatory damages for the sole purpose of punishing the defendant for his egregious conduct. Under Georgia law, punitive damages may only be awarded where the defendant’s conduct is shown to have been intentional, willful, wanton or callously indifferent to another person’s safety. (O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1) Negligent conduct will not support a claim for punitive damages in Georgia. Because most motor vehicle accidents involve only negligent conduct, punitive damages are rarely allowed to be awarded against an at-fault driver. However, there is one very important exception. Punitive damages can be awarded in cases involving motorcycle or car accidents caused by drunk drivers. The Georgia Supreme Court has held that driving while intoxicated and driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol does constitute wanton and callous conduct thereby justifying the use of punitive damages. See Moore v. Thompson, 255 Ga. 236, 336 SE 2d 749 (1985). Thus, in addition to compensatory damages, drunk driving victims can also seek punitive damages in their motor vehicle accident lawsuit against the drunk driver.
16. In a wrongful death lawsuit, what damages can be recovered in a motor vehicle accident case?
Every state has its own unique measure of damages in a wrongful death case. In Georgia, plaintiffs can recover the “full value of the life of the decedent.” Essentially, Georgia’s “full value of life” standard has two components – an economic component and a non-economic component. The economic component is the present value of the decedent’s future earnings which he would have likely received during the remainder of his life. The non-economic component includes all of the intangible aspects of life which are incapable of exact proof and therefore, are to be determined by the “enlightened conscience of impartial jurors.” Go to our Wrongful Death Practice Center if you want to read more about what damages can be recovered in a wrongful death case.
17. Are my recoverable damages limited to the amount of auto liability insurance which covers the at-fault driver or his vehicle?
No. The case is against the negligent driver, not his insurance company. The amount of insurance available to the at-fault driver does not create a limit on the amount of damages the plaintiff can seek in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Therefore, motorists can always sue the at-fault driver for an amount in excess of his auto liability coverage. Indeed, the availability and amount of liability insurance cannot even be mentioned at trial because such evidence is considered irrelevant and inadmissible under Georgia law. Accordingly, the jury will not even know how much insurance the negligent driver has. Assuming the defendant is found to be at fault for causing the accident, the jury will be instructed to consider only the type, severity and amount of injuries and damages suffered by the plaintiff in deciding upon the appropriate amount of compensation to be awarded. The jury verdict may or may not exceed the amount of liability insurance available to the defendant. If the verdict exceeds the limits of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage, then he is personally liable for paying that portion of the judgment not covered or paid by his insurance company. In addition to collecting directly from the negligent driver, the plaintiff may also be able to collect some or all of the “excess verdict” (that part which exceeds the limits of the defendant’s liability coverage) from his own auto insurer, provided that auto policy has underinsured motorist (UM) coverage. Whether the plaintiff can collect from his own UM coverage is a complex issue and so consultation with a qualified car accident attorney is advisable.
18. What will it cost for me to consult with an attorney about my potential case?
Nothing. You can contact us without obligation, and we will review and discuss your case at no charge. No attorney fees will be owed for our initial consultation or any subsequent time we spend reviewing your case to determine its merits and our willingness to represent your interests.
19. Does your law firm offer contingent fee arrangements?
Yes. Indeed, most of our car accident clients prefer to use a contingent fee to pay for the legal services we provide. Most clients choose a contingency so that they do not have to pay attorney fees while their case is pending. Under a contingent fee agreement, the client is charged no attorney fees unless there is a recovery of monetary damages due to a settlement, jury verdict, or some other means. If the case is lost and no recovery is made, the client owes no attorney fees. As required by law, any contingent fee percentage we agree upon will be documented and set forth in a written agreement which is signed by the client and the attorney handling the case. Among other things, that contingency fee agreement will clearly state what portion of any recovery will be paid to our law firm as attorney fees for the work we performed on the case.
20. If I cannot travel because of my injuries or some other reason, will an attorney travel to meet with me or my family at my home or some other place?
Yes. To effectively handle your case, we need to meet with each client in person. We prefer to meet in our Atlanta law offices, but we realize that is not always possible. We understand that distance, costs, injuries and other circumstances can sometimes prevent clients from being able to travel to our offices. There are advantages to getting started with an investigation as soon after the accident as possible. Therefore, if you cannot travel to our offices, we may be willing to meet with you or a family member at your home or other convenient location. We can even meet with someone at the hospital if that is necessary.
21. Do you ever represent any auto insurance companies or defend negligent drivers who they insure?
No. We always represent the injured victims and so we never agree to represent auto insurance companies. We avoid all potential conflicts of interest by always representing the plaintiffs in motor vehicle accident cases, and never defending the interests of any insurance company.
22. Do you ever defend or represent drunk drivers?
No. For numerous reasons, we never represent or defend drunk drivers. To begin, we believe drunk driving is reprehensible and we are committed to the cause of preventing this devastating crime. We are strong supporters of MADD. Our position against drunk driving and our longtime support of MADD has led to a firm policy against any representation of drunk drivers. Moreover, we do not practice criminal law and we never handle criminal cases. Therefore, we are not able to defend someone charged with any DUI related crimes. Finally, we are plaintiff attorneys, so we do not defend any parties, including drunk drivers, named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit.
A substantial part of our law practice is devoted to representing motorcycle and car accident victims. To find out more about Georgia law and our expertise in this area, click on our Motor Vehicle Practice Center. Please contact us if you want to discuss your case with an experienced auto accident attorney.