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Negligence Per Se: Civil Liability for O.C.G.A. 40-6-16: Spencer’s Pass Law

Proving Negligence After a Car Wreck in Georgia: Failing to Change Lanes Away from a Stopped Emergency Vehicle Can Result in Civil Liability

 

When most people think of the consequences of broken traffic laws, they imagine tickets and fines. These are the most common ways courts enforce traffic laws.  But traffic laws are not just an agreement between each driver and local law enforcement. They also represent an agreement between everyone on the road to drive in a safe, responsible manner.

When someone breaks that agreement and hurts someone else, traffic laws can be very useful in determining and proving liability. Generally, showing that someone has behaved negligently, and is therefore liable for the results of their actions, depends on proving that they acted in a way a reasonable person would not. If that person’s harmful actions involved breaking a traffic law, however, they are automatically considered unreasonable and negligent under the concept of negligence per se.

In last week’s discussion of negligence per se on the road, we covered a police officer’s responsibility to consider the safety of all parties while pursuing a suspect. This week, we’ll be covering statute 40-6-16, also known as the Spencer Pass Law, as well as the related statute 40-6-75. Both of these cover the responsibility of all drivers to exercise special care around stopped emergency, utility, and maintenance vehicles.

 

What Is the Spencer Pass Law?

The Spencer Pass Law states that, when approaching stationary emergency or service vehicles, drivers must change lanes if they can, to avoid passing directly next to the stopped vehicles. This law never requires drivers to break other laws or behave unsafely; whenever changing lanes would be impossible, illegal, or dangerous, drivers must instead slow their speed to below the speed limit while passing and be prepared to stop.

 

What Situations Does the Spencer Pass Law Cover?

The requirement to change lanes if possible or slow down if not applies to a variety of situations, the first being stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights.


40-6-16. Spencer Pass Law; passing stationary emergency and other vehicles; violations

(a) This Code section shall be known and may be cited as the “Spencer Pass Law.”

(b) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying flashing yellow, amber, white, red, or blue lights shall approach the authorized emergency vehicle with due caution and shall, absent any other direction by a peace officer, proceed as follows:

(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle if possible in the existing safety and traffic conditions; or

(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be less than the posted speed limit, and be prepared to stop.

 

Tow trucks are also protected under the Spencer’s Pass Law, and so are utility or maintenance vehicles that signal their presence with orange cones.

 

(c) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a stationary towing or recovery vehicle, a stationary highway maintenance vehicle, or a stationary utility service vehicle that is utilizing traffic cones or displaying flashing yellow, amber, white, or red lights shall approach the vehicle with due caution and shall, absent any other direction by a peace officer, proceed as follows:

(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the towing, recovery, highway maintenance, or utility service vehicle if possible in the existing safety and traffic conditions; or

(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be less than the posted speed limit, and be prepared to stop.

 

This includes the vehicles of anyone working on phone lines, electrical lines, gas lines, trees, sidewalks, and other infrastructure.

 

(e) As used in this Code section, the term:

(1) “Utility service vehicle” means any vehicle being used by an employee or contractor of any entity, including, but not limited to, a political subdivision of this state or a local authority or commission related thereto, an electric cooperative, or a public or private corporation, in connection with the provision of utility services.

(2) “Utility services” means and includes electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, cable, telephone, or telecommunication services or the repair, location, relocation, improvement, or maintenance of utility poles, transmission structures, pipes, wires, fibers, cables, easements, rights of way, and associated infrastructure.

 

To be safe, it’s always a good idea to give a wide berth to any parked vehicle with people working in the vicinity. When flashing lights or traffic cones are present, it’s a sign to be especially cautious.

 

What Happens If Someone Doesn’t Change Lanes or Slow Down?

Usually, when drivers are caught violating the Spencer Pass Law, the penalty is a fine, much like any moving violation.

 

(d)

(1) Violation of subsection (b) of this Code section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500.00.

(2) Violation of subsection (c) of this Code section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $250.00.

 

However, if the violation causes harm to another person or property, the driver is also civilly liable, based on the concept of negligence per se. In other words, if a person drives too quickly past a traffic stop and no accident occurs, the officer has the right to pull that driver over for a ticket, and the consequences end there. However, if the driver hits the officer or suspect involved in the traffic stop, even if the officer or suspect has stepped out into the nearest lane of traffic, the victim of the collision can also sue for civil damages, on top of the fine the driver would already be subject to.

 

What About Road Work?

Road construction and maintenance vehicles, and the workers who use them, are specifically protected under a separate but similar law.

 

40-6-75. Highway construction and maintenance vehicles

 

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to any authorized vehicle or pedestrian actually engaged in work upon a highway within any highway construction or maintenance area indicated by official traffic-control devices.

(b) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to an authorized vehicle actually engaged in work upon a highway whenever such vehicle displays flashing or revolving amber lights and has a permit to use such amber lights.

 

Although the text of 40-6-75 doesn’t specifically mention moving over, and offering a full lane of buffer room is often impossible when road work is completely blocking lanes of traffic, drivers are still required to yield to construction vehicles and workers. That means driving slowly and cautiously enough to be ready to yield when necessary.

 

What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Violates the Spencer Pass Law?

If you’ve been hurt by someone else’s recklessness around stopped emergency, utility, or construction vehicles, that driver is responsible for the damages. It doesn’t matter whether you were one of the workers the negligent driver failed to yield to, or a fellow motorist he or she struck while swerving at the last moment. As long as you were following the rules of the road and the person who hit you was not, negligence per se is on your side. The damages you will be able to recover will fall into the categories of “special” and “general.”

 

You Can Recover “Special” Damages to Cover Your Losses

 

Reimbursement for medical bills, car repairs, and lost wages all fall under the heading of “special damages.” Special damages are meant to cover the specific, financial losses you’ve suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence. To recover special damages, you’ll need to prove that the financial loss occurred and that it was directly or proximately caused by the defendant’s negligence. To learn more about proving direct or proximate cause, click here.

 

You Can Also Recover “General” Damages to Compensate for Other Forms of Harm

 

There’s no amount of money that can truly fix chronic injuries, emotional scars, or the pain of being unable to participate in life as you normally would. Even with paid medical care and vehicle replacement, the effects of a car accident can linger for months or for a lifetime. General damages are intended to help bridge some of that gap. General damages are based on the hard-to-measure effects of an accident, like pain and suffering and mental anguish, so the dollar amount of a settlement can vary considerably depending on the judge, the jury, and the skill of your lawyer.

 

What If the Accident Was Fatal?

 

If you’ve lost a loved one in an accident caused by another driver’s violation of the Spencer Pass Law, your case is classified as wrongful death rather than personal injury. The added weight of a wrongful death brings with it different rules. You can learn more about wrongful death cases here.

 

Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

When a case seems cut-and-dried, it can be tempting to pursue justice singlehandedly. This is rarely a good idea, given how surprisingly complicated legal proceedings can be. When it comes to traffic incidents, the involvement of insurance companies makes taking matters into your own hands especially perilous. Insurance representatives are well trained in asking trick questions and pressuring people into quick, cheap settlements, and once you’ve fallen for one of their traps, it’s too late for a lawyer to repair the damage.

 

Luckily, with the Wetherington Law Firm, you don’t need to be rich to get expert assistance pursuing your claim.

 

How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta

Just reach out by phone or email, and we’ll be happy to provide you with a consultation on your case, completely free of charge or obligation.

 

If we decide to work together, it will be on a contingency basis. That means we’ll only accept payment out of the settlement we secure for you. You don’t pay a cent until and unless we win.

 

Working with the Wetherington Law Firm Can Help Protect Others Like Yourself

As we work with our clients, we’re always on the lookout for deeper problems that transcend a single case and pose a danger to the well-being of others. One of the recurring reasons for accidents connected with the Spencer Pass Law, for example, is lack of public awareness, education, and proper signage about the law. If you believe your case is part of a larger pattern and want to make a difference in the world, we’ll proudly help you pursue lasting change, as well as a fair settlement for yourself. To learn more about your options for justice, for yourself and for others, give us a call!

 

 

 

 

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