Proving Negligence After a Car Wreck in Georgia: All Drivers Must Obey Traffic Lights
Posted by Wetherington Law Firm | Articles
What Constitutes Running a Red Light?
Last week in our blog series on Georgia road statutes and negligence per se, we discussed statute 4-6-26, regarding illegally accessing closed roads. This week we’ll be discussing another scenario where drivers push past traffic control devices and put others at risk: running a red light.
Negligence per se is the idea that any time a person breaks a law intended to protect public safety, their behavior is automatically considered negligent if they hurt someone, making them civilly liable for the damages. Statute 4-6-20, which forbids running red lights and hopefully prevents us all from getting t-boned every time we cross an intersection, is another of the many public safety laws that automatically trigger negligence per se when someone breaks them.
A red light might be either a solid red light or a red arrow light. When a red light is visible, only right turns are permitted, and only if there is no sign prohibiting them. A driver attempting to make a right turn must first come to a complete stop and yield right of way to pedestrians and cross traffic. When a red arrow is visible, turns in the direction of the arrow are prohibited for as long as the red arrow remains lit.
Emergency vehicles with lights and sirens active are exempt from these restrictions, and so are drivers who are following the direct instructions of a police officer on the scene. A driver who runs a red light may also receive leniency if the traffic light is so obscured by tree branches, signs, or other obstructions that a reasonable person wouldn’t be able to notice or interpret its signals, but those are exceptions made in court on a case-by-case basis.
40-6-20. Obedience to and required traffic-control devices; use of traffic-control signal monitoring devices
(a) The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of an official traffic-control device applicable thereto, placed in accordance with this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter. A violation of this subsection shall be a misdemeanor, except as otherwise provided by subsection (f) of this Code section.
(b) No provisions of this chapter which require official traffic-control devices shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official device was not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person. Whenever a particular Code section does not state that official traffic-control devices are required, such Code section shall be effective even though no devices are erected or in place.
What If the Traffic Light Looks Fake?
Technically, nobody has to obey a traffic light that wasn’t installed by a legitimate authority, but the burden of proof in this scenario is on the driver. A traffic light is assumed to be real unless proven fake, so it’s usually best to stop at even a fishy-looking red, to be on the safe side.
(c) Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this chapter, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
(d) Any official traffic-control device placed pursuant to this chapter and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this chapter, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
(e) The disregard or disobedience of the instructions of any official traffic-control device or signal placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter by the driver of a vehicle shall be deemed prima-facie evidence of a violation of law, without requiring proof of who and by what authority such sign or device has been erected.
How Can a Violation Be Proven?
If an officer witnesses someone running a red light, that officer can pull the driver over and issue a citation. More often though, violations of 4-6-20 are caught on camera with a traffic-control signal monitoring device. Most drivers are familiar with these camera systems perched on top of traffic lights at major intersections, waiting to catch the plates of anyone crossing the intersection too quickly or at the wrong time.
(C) “Traffic-control signal monitoring device” means a device with one or more motor vehicle sensors working in conjunction with a traffic-control signal to produce recorded images of motor vehicles being operated in disregard or disobedience of a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal.
(2) Subsection (a) of this Code section may be enforced as provided in this subsection pursuant to the use of traffic-control signal monitoring devices in accordance with Article 3 of Chapter 14 of this title.
This is an either-or situation. The same driver can’t be cited twice for the same infraction by both a witnessing police officer and a monitoring device.
(8) A governing authority shall not impose a civil penalty under this subsection on the owner of a motor vehicle if the operator of the vehicle was arrested or issued a citation and notice to appear by a peace officer for the same violation that is recorded by a traffic-control signal monitoring device.
In cases where a driver is caught by a monitoring device, a police officer will need to verify the evidence visually and be willing to swear that it’s adequate. Timed cameras and text recognition software can do a lot of the work, but there’s still a lot that only human eyes can make out.
(C) Proof that a motor vehicle was operated in disregard or disobedience of a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal in violation of subsection (a) of this Code section shall be evidenced by recorded images produced by a traffic-control signal monitoring device authorized pursuant to Article 3 of Chapter 14 of this title. A copy of a certificate sworn to or affirmed by a certified peace officer employed by a law enforcement agency and stating that, based upon inspection of recorded images, a motor vehicle was operated in disregard or disobedience of a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal in violation of subsection (a) of this Code section and that such disregard or disobedience was not otherwise authorized by law shall be prima-facie evidence of the facts contained therein; and
To be admissible, the evidence will need to include either a video or at least two photos that show both the red light and the license plate of the vehicle.
(B) “Recorded images” means images recorded by a traffic-control signal monitoring device:
(I) Two or more photographs;
(II) Two or more microphotographs;
(III) Two or more electronic images; or
(IV) Videotape; and
(ii) Showing a traffic-control signal displaying a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal along with the rear of a motor vehicle apparently operated in disregard or disobedience of such signal and, on at least one image or portion of tape, clearly revealing the number or other identifying designation of the license plate displayed on the motor vehicle.
There are many tricks and products available that are intended to prevent monitoring devices from capturing the required two photos, but most are ineffective and all of them are illegal in their own right. Correctly observing red lights is the only way to avoid negligence per se liability.
What If the Driver Isn’t the Same Person the License Plate Is Registered To?
When a monitoring device captures evidence of a vehicle running a red light, the owner of the vehicle is naturally the first suspect and the first to receive a notice. The owner can be any person or company that has registered the vehicle, with the exception of a vehicle rental company. For liability purposes, rental companies are only considered to be the owners of their vehicles when those vehicles are being operated by their own staff. While rented out, the vehicles are, for all intents and purposes, the property of the renters.
(1) As used in this subsection, the term:
(A) “Owner” means the registrant of a motor vehicle, except that such term shall not include a motor vehicle rental company when a motor vehicle registered by such company is being operated by another person under a rental agreement with such company.
Photographic or video evidence of a violation of 4-6-20 isn’t required to include a clear image of the driver, and the registered owner of the vehicle is automatically assumed to be the one behind the wheel. To contest this, the owner must either prove that the vehicle was reported stolen before the violation happened, or declare who the real driver was in a sworn statement.
(D) Liability under this subsection shall be determined based upon preponderance of the evidence. Prima-facie evidence that the vehicle described in the citation issued pursuant to this subsection was operated in violation of subsection (a) of this Code section, together with proof that the defendant was at the time of such violation the registered owner of the vehicle, shall permit the trier of fact in its discretion to infer that such owner of the vehicle was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation. Such an inference may be rebutted if the owner of the vehicle:
(i) Testifies under oath in open court or submits to the court a sworn notarized statement that he or she was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation;
(ii) Presents to the court a certified copy of a police report showing that the vehicle had been reported to the police as stolen prior to the time of the alleged violation; or
(iii) Submits to the court a sworn notarized statement identifying the name of the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation.
What Happens After Someone Runs a Red Light?
Most people are aware that they can be fined for running a red light, and most of the time that’s the main repercussion. If a monitoring device is less than 30 days old, warnings are given in place of fines. After that, in order to impose a fine, law enforcement must send the driver the basic information about the citation (reason, time, and place) and inform them of their options to pay the fine or appear in court. That first letter must be sent within 10 days of the infraction, and it’s the first of two chances the driver will get to appear in court. If the driver doesn’t show, the fine becomes the only option.
(3) For the purpose of enforcement pursuant to this subsection:
(A) The driver of a motor vehicle shall be liable for a civil monetary penalty of not more than $70.00 if such vehicle is found, as evidenced by recorded images produced by a traffic-control signal monitoring device, to have been operated in disregard or disobedience of a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal in violation of subsection (a) of this Code section and such disregard or disobedience was not otherwise authorized by law;
(B) The law enforcement agency authorized to enforce the provisions of this Code section shall send by regular mail addressed to the owner of the motor vehicle postmarked not later than ten days after the date of the alleged violation:
(i) A citation for the alleged violation, which shall include the date and time of the violation, the location of the intersection, the amount of the civil monetary penalty imposed, and the date by which the civil monetary penalty shall be paid;
(ii) A copy of the recorded image;
(iii) A copy of a certificate sworn to or affirmed by a certified peace officer employed by a law enforcement agency authorized to enforce this Code section and stating that, based upon inspection of recorded images, the owner’s motor vehicle was operated in disregard or disobedience of a CIRCULAR RED or RED ARROW signal in violation of subsection (a) of this Code section and that such disregard or disobedience was not otherwise authorized by law;
(iv) A statement of the inference provided by subparagraph (D) of this paragraph and of the means specified therein by which such inference may be rebutted;
(v) Information advising the owner of the motor vehicle of the manner and time in which liability as alleged in the citation may be contested in court; and
(vi) Warning that failure to pay the civil monetary penalty or to contest liability in a timely manner shall waive any right to contest liability and result in a civil monetary penalty;
provided, however, that only warning notices and not citations for violations shall be sent during the 30 day period commencing with the installation of a traffic-control signal monitoring device at such location;
Running a red light is not considered a moving violation, does not affect a person’s insurance eligibility or premiums, and carries a maximum fine of $70.
(4) A violation for which a civil penalty is imposed pursuant to this subsection shall not be considered a moving traffic violation, for the purpose of points assessment under Code Section 40-5-57. Such violation shall be deemed noncriminal, and imposition of a civil penalty pursuant to this subsection shall not be deemed a conviction and shall not be made a part of the operating record of the person upon whom such liability is imposed, nor shall it be used for any insurance purposes in the provision of motor vehicle insurance coverage.
(5) If a person summoned by regular mail fails to appear on the date of return set out in the citation and has not paid the penalty for the violation or filed a police report or notarized statement pursuant to subparagraph (D) of paragraph (3) of this subsection, the person shall then be summoned a second time by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The second summons shall include all information required in subparagraph (B) of paragraph (3) of this subsection for the initial summons and shall include a new date of return. If a person summoned by certified mail again fails to appear on the date of return set out in the second citation and has failed to pay the penalty or file an appropriate document for rebuttal, the person summoned shall have waived the right to contest the violation and shall be liable for a civil monetary penalty of not more than $70.00.
(6) Any court having jurisdiction over violations of subsection (a) of this Code section or any ordinance adopting the provisions of said subsection pursuant to Code Section 40-6-372 shall have jurisdiction over cases arising under this subsection and shall be authorized to impose the civil monetary penalty provided by this subsection. Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the provisions of law governing jurisdiction, procedure, defenses, adjudication, appeal, and payment and distribution of penalties otherwise applicable to violations of subsection (a) of this Code section shall apply to enforcement under this subsection; provided, however, that any appeal from superior or state court shall be by application in the same manner as that provided by Code Section 5-6-35.
(7) Recorded images made for purposes of this subsection shall not be a public record for purposes of Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50.
However, it’s important to realize that, in spite of its confusing name of “civil penalty,” a traffic fine has nothing to do with a person’s civil liability for hurting another person. If a driver causes an accident by running a red light, that driver is liable for any resulting injuries under the concept of negligence per se, and the damages are likely to be much more expensive than $70.
What Kind of Civil Damages Can You Recover If Someone Runs a Red Light?
Running a red light and hitting a pedestrian or another car is a clear case of negligence per se. A driver running a red light may also cause injuries without directly hitting someone, such as by forcing another driver to slam on the brakes, leading to a rear end collision. As long as the other drivers were using reasonable caution and not breaking the law, the driver running the red light is liable for those injuries as well. Even if the other drivers were not driving perfectly, the driver running the red light may still be partially liable if they are found to be at least 51% responsible for the crash.
Any compensation awarded to victims will be divided into “special” and “general” damages.
“Special” Damages Are a Reimbursement for Accident-Related Expenses
Any accident-related loss with an easily calculated monetary value will fall under the category of special damages. Typical expenses victims can recover include medical care, vehicle rental, vehicle replacement, lost wages, and the cost of care for dependent family members the victim can no longer care for personally due to injury. Claims for special damages must be carefully itemized and substantiated with receipts, and the expenses must be proven to be directly or “proximately” caused by the defendant’s negligence. To learn more about proximate cause and how to prove it, click here.
“General” Damages Are Compensation for Intangible Losses
The physical and psychological pain associated with an accident has no dollar value, but the law recognizes that this too is a kind of loss — a loss of comfort, peace of mind, and sometimes even limbs, mobility, or the capacity to enjoy life as you did before. General damages exist to address these losses, as well as they can be addressed without a way of turning back time. Because general damages have no obvious price tags, it’s especially vital to have a skilled lawyer to help you with this kind of claim and make sure you get the full settlement you deserve.
What If the Driver Who Ran the Red Light Caused Someone’s Death?
When there’s a fatality involved, a case changes from personal injury to wrongful death. You can absolutely recover damages for the loss of a loved one, but additional rules apply to this especially serious kind of case. Click here to learn more about wrongful death.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
It’s a good idea to have an expert in your corner for any kind of legal proceeding, especially when the stakes are as high as determining whether you’ll have the money you need to pay for treatment and take care of your family while you’re recovering. Traffic-related cases can also be particularly treacherous to navigate alone, because of the involvement of insurance companies. Insurance companies maximize their profits by paying out as little as possible, and they’re experts at asking trick questions and laying traps to make that happen. At the Wetherington Law Firm, we’ve seen those tricks before, and we’ll make sure you don’t fall prey to anything that will hurt your chance at a fair settlement.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
The Wetherington Law Firm works on a contingency basis only, which means you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to afford legal representation, ever. Once we secure your settlement, we accept a portion as payment. That’s all. No paying out of pocket, no going into debt. Our job is to make sure you’re taken care of better than you would be without us, not worse.
The Wetherington Law Firm Stands by Clients Who Want to Change the World
Was your accident caused by more than just one reckless or inattentive driver ploughing through a red light? Do you believe the intersection where it happened was inherently unsafe, or that the driver was employed by a company that encourages unsafe driving practices? We’ll be happy to dig deeper and help you use your case to effect real change. To learn more about how we can help you pursue justice for others as well as yourself, give us a call today!