Is the Other Driver’s Admission of Fault Enough to Win a Personal Injury Case in Georgia?
If you are injured in an auto accident and the other driver admits fault, you might assume that means they will automatically pay for all of your medical bills and other losses. But establishing fault is just one part of proving a personal injury claim in Georgia. A plaintiff must also prove “proximate cause”–i.e., they need to connect the defendant’s negligence in causing the accident with the specific injury or loss sustained by the plaintiff.
Ga. Court of Appeals Upholds $70,000 Award in Rear-End Accident Lawsuit
Take this recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Arnold v. Liggins. In this personal injury case, the plaintiff and the defendant were driving their respective cars westbound on I-20 when the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant. The defendant admitted fault but disputed that the accident was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.
Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered a back injury, which is common in rear-end collisions. On cross-examination, the defendant tried to introduce evidence suggesting the defendant’s back injury may have stemmed from another auto accident that occurred two years prior to the rear-end collision. The defense tried to introduce a police report of the earlier accident. The plaintiff objected, arguing the report was inadmissible hearsay. The trial court sustained the objection and excluded the report.
The defense then asked the plaintiff if he told an officer following the earlier accident that he was experiencing back pain. The plaintiff said he could not remember. The defense tried to follow up, but the judge shut down further questioning on this point.
A jury ultimately returned a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded $70,000 in damages. The defense appealed. Among other issues, the defense argued the trial court improperly excluded the police report of the earlier accident. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument and upheld the jury’s verdict.
The appellate court explained that there is an exception to the general rule against admitting hearsay for “public records and reports.” Basically, a police report can be admitted into evidence in a personal injury case “to the extent it documents observations made by the officer himself.” Any statements made to the officer–hearsay within hearsay–can only be admitted if “each part of the combined statements” conforms with an established exception to the hearsay rule.
Here, the defense wanted to admit a hearsay statement that the plaintiff allegedly made to the officer who prepared the report on the earlier accident. There is an exception for statements made during or immediately following an event. But it was not clear from the police report when the plaintiff made his statement regarding back pain, i.e., there was “no indication of how soon after the collision [the plaintiff] complained of pain nor whether he made the declaration spontaneously.”
More to the point, the Court of Appeals said that even if the defense had been allowed to show the police report of the earlier accident to the jury, it probably would not have made a difference. Indeed, the defense was allowed to introduce the plaintiff’s medical records from the earlier accident. So the jury was able to consider whether the plaintiff’s back injuries arose from the rear-end collision with the defendant or the earlier accident. The jury ultimately found the plaintiff’s case more compelling.
Contact the Georgia Car Accident Lawyers at Hawkins Spizman Today
You can never take a personal injury case for granted. That is why it is important to work with a qualified Alpharetta personal injury lawyer. Contact Hawkins Spizman today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.