In our last post, we discussed the prevalence of distracted driving in Georgia despite a two-year-old ban on the use of handheld cellphones behind the wheel. Distracted driving remains a common and consequential problem nationwide. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately nine people are killed, and 1,000 people are injured in distracted driving crashes every day.
If you’ve been seriously injured by a distracted driver, you usually have the right to seek full and fair compensation through personal injury litigation. Unfortunately, a shortsighted state law makes it far harder to receive full compensation when you’ve been injured by the very group of people responsible for enforcing the distracted driving ban: police officers.
A recent news report exposed a problem with a state law that was enacted in 2010 as a budget-control measure. The law grants immunity from lawsuits to local governments. It makes an exception for negligent vehicle crashes but caps recoverable damages at $500,000 for individuals injured in a crash, and caps total recoverable damages (if there are multiple victims) to just $700,000.
At first, this may seem like a lot of money, but real-life examples show that it is sometimes too low to even cover medical expenses. In 2019, a woman was rear-ended at 68 mph by a Gwinnett County police officer who was driving distracted. She was traveling at just 6 mph in rush-hour traffic. The officer reportedly had “multiple browser screens open” on is in-vehicle computer, including a YouTube video.
The woman suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that required her to be put into a medically induced coma for a month. She has been unable to work for the past year, and it’s unclear when or even if she will be able to start working again.
Because of state law, the woman was forced to accept a $500,000 settlement for the crash, which doesn’t even cover her medical expenses (much less compensate her for anything else).
Another Georgia woman lost her mother and her two young children in a 2016 crash caused by a police officer involved in a car chase. Under state law, she and her husband would be entitled to no more than $700,000. They have filed a lawsuit hoping to get the law changed, but it has taken years to reach the Georgia Court of Appeals.
We have to hope that these personal stories, litigation and increased public awareness will spur changes to a law that leaves all Georgians vulnerable to catastrophic injury with limited opportunity for financial recovery. After devastating injuries caused by someone else’s negligence, victims deserve full and fair compensation – no matter who the at-fault driver may be.