Death without warning in the early morning
Recently we concluded settlement of a case in which a drunk on the wrong side of the road struck and killed a woman driving to a church breakfast. One moment she was driving safely and prudently down a quiet country road. The next moment an intoxicated stranger crossed the center line and crashed head-on into her. Instantly she entered eternity, leaving a grieving family behind. Such tragedies occur far too often. It happened again last week in Lawrenceville.
Numerous traffic law violations may be implicated in such a crash, such as operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391), failure to operate a vehicle solely on the right hand side of the roadway on a divided highway (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-50), failure to operate a vehicle on the right half of a roadway (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-40), failure to operate a vehicle as nearly as practicable within a single lane (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48), and operation of a motor vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property (O.C.G.A. § 40–6-390).
Georgia wrongful death law allows for recovery of the “full value of the life” of the decedent, including both economic and intangible aspects of the value of the life with no deductions for living expense, other death benefits, etc. There may also be a claim for the decedent’s estate for funeral expense, medical expense, etc. It is the option of the survivors to bring either or both of those claims, and there are solid tactical reasons for various choices.
News articles sometimes focus on whether or not the deceased person was wearing a seatbelt, even if in a head-on crash it might not have made much difference. Georgia law if forgiving of the victim’s human imperfection on this point. O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76.1 requires seatbelt use, sets a fine for failure to use a seatbelt, but also provides:
(d) The failure of an occupant of a motor vehicle to wear a seat safety belt in any seat of a motor vehicle which has a seat safety belt or belts shall not be considered evidence of negligence or causation, shall not otherwise be considered by the finder of fact on any question of liability of any person, corporation, or insurer, shall not be any basis for cancellation of coverage or increase in insurance rates, and shall not be evidence used to diminish any recovery for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance, occupancy, or operation of a motor vehicle.
Thus the attorney hired by the insurance company for the drunk who crosses the center line and kills somebody is deprived of the opportunity to blame the victim, in whole or in part, due to failure to buckle up.