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By: Wesley C. Jackson
Beginning July 1, 2018, it will be illegal for Georgians to hold their phones while driving. The new law was signed by Governor Nathan Deal on Wednesday May 2, 2018.
How might this new law effect auto-accident litigation in Georgia? A motorist injured by a distracted driver must establish that the distracted driver acted negligently. Formerly, the injured motorist would have to convince a jury that the distracted driver’s conduct breached his duty to exercise ordinary care. But now, if a distracted driver violates the new hands-free law, he will be presumed to have breached this duty as a matter of law due to the doctrine of “negligence per se.”
When a defendant violates a statute and injures someone the statute was designed to protect, the doctrine of negligence per se shifts the burden of proof at trial from the plaintiff to the defendant. The plaintiff no longer needs to prove that the defendant acted negligently; instead, the defendant is presumed to have acted negligently unless he can show that he unintentionally violated the statute and otherwise exercised ordinary care.
So, if a driver causes an accident while on his phone and is convicted of violating the new hands-free statute, a plaintiff could argue that the defendant was presumptively negligent because the defendant violated a statute that was intended to protect other motorists from auto accidents caused by distracted drivers. The injured driver would still have to prove that the distracted driver’s negligence caused her injuries, but the bar for recovery will be lower if the distracted driver violated the new law.
Hopefully, Georgia’s new law will encourage drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. But when accidents (and lawsuits) occur, injured plaintiffs may have a new offensive strategy with the negligence per se doctrine.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Wes Jackson at [email protected]. If you send Mr. Jackson an email, please do not do so while driving.