With all of the snow and ice in Atlanta, Georgia over the last few days, many consumers have called asking about who is responsible when they are involved in car accidents due to ice. The answer is rooted in common sense and codified in OCGA § 40-6-180.
Under the Law, a driver may not drive their “vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing. Consistently with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a reasonable and prudent speed… when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.”
The law is pretty simple; if you know there is ice out there and you drive at an excessive speed and crash your car into another driver, you are liable. The trick in ice and snow cases is whether there are witnesses. Most drivers that are to blame claim there was nothing they could do and that the ice was to blame. History has demonstrated that if there is no eyewitness, most insurance companies deny liability regardless of who the police officer cited. Insurance companies know that juries in Georgia have real problems in assessing blame in adverse weather cases.
For example, in the case of Gibson v. Carter 248 Ga. App. 280 (2001), the plaintiff was injured in a crash where he claimed the other driver slid through a stop sign and struck him. The case was tried to a jury and the jury awarded only his medical bills of $2,133. They appealed the case and got a new trial. In the second trial, they made a motion that resulted in the Judge telling the jury that they must find in favor of the plaintiff because the Defendant ran the stop sign, regardless of the reason why. Once the jury did not have to debate who was to blame, they returned a $30,000.00 verdict for the same injury. This illustrates what we see happen frequently with juries where the crash involved snow and ice. Juries have a very difficult time in deciding responsibility in icy crashes without witnesses.
The insurance companies know this and therefore when it comes to disputed repair claims they know they can deny your claim and as a practical matter, there is very little you can do about it. You certainly can sue the defendant driver in their home county but if you do it on your own, the other driver’s insurance company will hire them a lawyer to defend them for free. Unless you are very skilled in a courtroom, chances are you will botch one of the technical requirements, and lose. The insurance company counts on this fact and that’s why they deny most of these claims.
You can always choose to pay a lawyer hourly, but the repair had better be incredibly expensive to justify the cost, usually $3,000-$5,000 for a trial. Lawyers do not typically take ice related property damage claims on a contingency fee arrangement because the odds of success are lower and the upside is very limited. In short, it is not worth the risk.
The situation can be different if you had a serious injury in a car accident involving ice in Georgia. In a serious injury case with good liability facts, you should be able to get an Atlanta car accident attorney interested in taking the case on a contingency fee. These cases are not easy and are rarely settled without filing a lawsuit and going to trial.