What is Breach of Duty in Georgia?

Breach of Duty in Gwinnett County Georgia

Under Georgia’s personal injury laws, the four elements of negligence are:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty
  3. Causation, and
  4. Damages

The breach of duty element is when an individual’s conduct fails to meet an applicable standard of care.

If a defendant in a personal injury case has breached their duty of care, he or she may be held liable for damages.

The onus, however, is on the plaintiff to prove the following to establish liability for negligence:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The breach caused harm to the plaintiff
  • The plaintiff suffered an injury/damages

If you are pursuing or defending a personal injury case, it helps to understand more about the standards of care expected and whether a breach of duty has occurred.

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What are the standards of care in personal injury claims in Georgia?

Standards of care vary according to the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant in Georgia.

For instance, drivers on the roads in Georgia are held to a different standard of care than professional doctors.

The most basic classifications are negligence per se, ordinary negligence and professional negligence but, as you will see below, other possible complexities must sometimes be considered.

Negligence per se relates to the standard of care that individuals owe to other individuals in daily life. Everyone has a duty to comply with the law or, if someone is injured as a result of their actions, they can be held liable if:

  • The injured plaintiff falls within the class of persons the statute is intended to protect; and
  • The harm suffered is the type the statute was designed to protect against.

For example, drivers on the roads in Georgia have a duty of care to other road users. If a car driver runs a red light and hits a pedestrian who is crossing at the time, injuring that person, a jury can find the car driver liable for the injuries.

The road laws are designed specifically to prevent this type of injury to other road users, so negligence per se may be applied in this case.

The following examples also feature laws designed to protect people, allowing a defendant who breaches their duty by not following the law to be held liable:

  • A dog bite injury that results from an owner allowing a dog to roam free in a park where there is a rule is that dogs must be on leashes.
  • A speeding driver who causes a collision with another motorist.
  • An employer who fails to follow an OSHA safety rule.

Under Georgia law, the normal standard of negligence is “that degree of care which is exercised by ordinarily prudent persons under the same or similar circumstances.”

So, for a successful ordinary negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to act as a reasonable person would have done under the same circumstances. 

An example is a restaurant where a waiter drops a plate of food. The food is cleaned up and the floor washed but no sign is displayed to warn customers of the wet and slippery floor.

If a customer then slips and falls, breaking a leg, the restaurant owner may have to answer an ordinary negligence claim for breach of duty of care. Ordinarily, a sign should be displayed to warn customers of a hazard. A jury might, therefore, find the restaurant owner in breach of their duty to maintain safe premises.

Professional negligence is a different standard from ordinary negligence, applied when a professional provides a service to other individuals.

Doctors, lawyers, and accountants, for instance, are held to higher standards than in ordinary negligence cases. They are held to a level of care that would be exercised by other competent professionals under similar circumstances. 

A good example would be a patient visiting a hospital to have surgery on his left knee due to a problem with arthritis. During the operation, the surgeon replaces the right knee instead of the left one.

Under professional negligence laws, another competent professional would not normally make this basic mistake, so the surgeon/hospital could be held liable for negligence and damages.

Under Georgia law, “common carriers” are people or companies who transport passengers or goods.

They are bound to “use extraordinary diligence” in their professional roles and are, therefore, held to a higher standard of negligence than in ordinary situations.

At-fault vs. no-fault states

Georgia is known as an “at-fault” or “fault” state. This means that an individual who breaches their duty of care to another can be held liable for paying compensation to the injured party to cover damages. Generally, the negligent party’s insurance company pays the damages to the injured party.

No-fault states, on the other hand, have different repercussions in the event of an accident, especially concerning car accidents. Each driver must file a claim with their insurance company following an accident, regardless of who is at fault. Car insurance laws in these states are referred to as no-fault, choice no-fault, add-on or tort liability.

What is “contributory negligence” in Georgia?

Georgia follows the modified contributory negligence model, whereby even if you hold a portion of the blame for an accident, you may still file a compensation claim —providing you are less than 50 percent at fault.

If the other driver or their insurance company claims that you contributed to or caused the accident alone, your actions (or lack of action) will then be evaluated.

Under the contributory negligence laws, a claimant’s damages are reduced in proportion to the amount of fault held. So, if you are 25 percent to blame for the accident, you would receive 75 percent of the total compensatory award.

Need assistance with a personal injury claim in Gwinnett County?

Georgia’s breach of duty and broader personal injury laws can be complex and you stand a better chance of claiming maximum compensation with experienced legal representation.

Contact the Law Office of Adam D. Brown to arrange a case evaluation if you are involved in a personal injury claim in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

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