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Welcome back to our ongoing blog series on negligence per se, and how this fascinating legal concept applies to Georgia’s rules of the road.
Normally, when determining whether one person is civilly liable for the harm they’ve caused to another person, we have to use the somewhat subjective “reasonable person” standard. In other words, did the person do something that a reasonable person wouldn’t do, because of the obvious likelihood that it would end up causing harm? However, if the person’s actions violated a law intended to protect the public safety, then those actions are automatically considered unreasonable and negligent. That’s negligence per se.
Last week, we talked about statute 40-6-397, the definition of aggressive driving, and how aggressive behaviors trigger negligence per se. This week, we’ll cover statute 40-6-26. We’ve already alluded to 4-6-26 in our previous discussions of tampering with traffic control devices, but this statute also goes into further detail on traffic control devices that limit access to closed portions of road.
What Does Interference with a Traffic Control Device Mean?
As discussed in more detail in our post on statute 40-6-17, traffic control devices come in many forms, and people have come up with even more ways of interfering with them. Everything from stealing a stop sign to disrupting a traffic light’s sequence using a signal emitter counts as tampering with a traffic control device. Statute 40-6-26 specifically forbids knocking down traffic control devices or adding additional images or inscriptions to them.
40-6-26. Interference with official traffic-control devices or railroad signs or signals
(a) No person shall, without lawful authority, attempt to or in fact alter, deface, injure, knock down, or remove any official traffic-control device or any railroad sign or signal or any inscription, shield, or insignia thereon or any other part thereof.
The second part of 40-6-26 deals specifically with traffic control devices used for closing off a section of road, and the illegality not only of damaging them, but of going around them.
How Do I Know If a Road Is Closed?
When closing a section of road, or keeping a new section closed until it’s ready for the public, local authorities may use signs, barricades, tape, orange cones, temporary lights, and other indications to alert motorists. As one would expect, ploughing through or squeezing around these road closure indicators is illegal under 4-6-26.
(b) No person shall, without lawful authority, drive around or through or ignore any official traffic-control device so as to go onto an officially closed highway or road or onto a section of highway or road before it has been officially opened to the public.
There are all sorts of reasons a section of road might be closed, including construction, filming, public events, and emergency service work in progress. The road may be unsafe for motorists due to uncovered trenches, or there may be people who are working or in trouble and aren’t prepared to deal with oncoming traffic. Driving on closed roads puts not only the driver but others in the area at risk.
Is Accessing a Closed Road Ever Okay?
It depends. Statute 40-6-26 does contain exceptions for police officers, people who live or work on the closed road, and authorized individuals, such as the workers sent to repair a damaged gas line or power line that caused the closure in the first place.
This Code section shall not apply to police officers in the performance of their duties, to individuals domiciled or making their livelihood within the affected area, or to any person authorized to be in the affected area by the appropriate municipal, county, or state officer.
However, there are situations where roads become unsafe, even for the reduced traffic of those living or working in the area. It’s important to read signs carefully. If local residents and workers are allowed, signs will usually specify “local traffic only” or “no thru traffic.”
During a short-term or sudden closure like a parade or a fire, there will often be someone authorized to direct traffic and monitor the closure. When in doubt, ask for clarification, and follow the directions of authorized officials.
What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Drives on a Closed Road?
When someone ignores indicators of a road closure, that person is automatically liable for any resulting damages under the concept of negligence per se. This might include running over parade-goers, breaking repair equipment and making a hazardous situation worse, or interfering with an emergency response, allowing a fire to burn out of control or a violent criminal to get away.
If you’ve been injured as a result of someone else driving on a closed section of road, you may be entitled to special and/or general damages.
“Special” Damages Are Awarded to Cover Financial Losses
Recovering from an accident is often a slow, expensive process, which is why judges award special damages to cover things like doctor’s bills and lost wages. Destroyed property also falls into the category of special damages, so if a driver crashed into your booth at a street crafts fair, for example, your ruined wares would be covered under special damages. Make sure to inventory and document every expense carefully, as you’ll need this evidence in court. In addition to proving that your expenses were real, you’ll also need to demonstrate that they were the direct or “proximate” result of the driver accessing the closed road. To learn about the definition of proximate cause, click here.
“General” Damages Are Awarded to Cover Non-Financial Losses
Even if an accident technically costs you nothing once the books are settled, that doesn’t mean you’re just as well off as you would be if it had never happened. A traffic accident can derail your goals with forced recovery time, leave you with lifelong pain and psychological repercussions, and stop you from doing the things you love. General damages are damages awarded in acknowledgement of your non-financial losses, to help make up some of the emotional difference. Losses with no obvious price tag are obviously subjective in value, so the quantity of general damages will depend heavily on the skill of your lawyer.
What If a Driver on a Closed Road Has Killed Someone?
If you’ve lost a loved one to another driver’s actions, then your case becomes wrongful death rather than personal injury. These are some of the most serious civil suits, and they carry their own rules. Click here to learn more about wrongful death.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Apart from negotiating the value of your general losses, a good lawyer is an indispensable ally and guide through the confusing minefield that is litigation. The experienced attorneys at the Wetherington Law Firm will listen to the unique details of your situation and walk you through every step of the process, keeping you informed of how the law applies to your case, what we need to prove, and how we’re going to do it. We know all the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
If you think you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you probably can’t afford not to. We’ll fight to make sure you get the settlement you need to take care of yourself and your family, and we’ll do it on a contingency basis. That means we only accept a piece of the settlement, no other payment, nothing up front. With the Wetherington Law Firm, you won’t pour more money into seeking justice than you’ll ever get back. We won’t allow it.
The Wetherington Law Firm Believes in Making Lasting Differences
Some of our clients only want fair compensation for their injuries, and we’re thrilled to help them out. Some want to change the world and protect others from similar fates, and we’re thrilled to help with that too. If your accident was more than just a one-off fluke, and you’d like to see an underlying problem addressed, we’ll support you in pursuing justice for yourself and for others. For example, if you were injured at an event on a public street without adequate closure barriers, we’ll investigate the liability of the event coordinators as well as the driver, and push for better safety standards in the future. To talk to someone about the change you’d like your case to make in the world, reach out today!