Is California a Comparative Fault Sate?

If you or a loved one has been in an accident and were injured due to someone else’s negligence, it’s possible that you might be at least partially liable as well. This doesn’t mean it’s your fault; it just means that the courts might decide that you played a role in the cause of the injury. This can be confusing for some people, so it’s important to understand what this means and how it affects how much compensation you can receive if you decide to file a civil claim. 

California is a Pure Comparative Fault State

All personal injury claims in California are governed by a principle known as pure comparative fault. This means that even if you were partially responsible for the injuries you sustained, you can still file a lawsuit and recover compensation. It doesn’t matter what percentage at fault you are deemed to be; even if it’s determined that you were 95 percent responsible for your injuries, you can still recover monetary damages. 

In a pure comparative fault state, your damage award will be reduced by the percentage that you are deemed to be at fault. For example, your case goes to trial and you are awarded $100,000. If you are found by the court to be 95 percent at fault, you will still receive five percent of the award, or $5,000. If you are deemed to be three percent at fault, you will receive 97 percent of the award.

How Responsibility is Determined

In California, responsibility is determined by the judge or the jury. In a jury trial, the jury is typically given the following instructions:

The defendant has made a claim that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to their injuries or harm. The defendant must prove the following to be successful in this claim: 

  1. The plaintiff was negligent; and
  2. The plaintiff’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing their injury or harm

If, during the trial, the defendant is able to prove the above criteria, the damages awarded to the plaintiff will be reduced by their percentage of responsibility. 

The Jury Decides the Damages

If you have a jury trial for a personal injury case in California, the jury decides how much compensation the plaintiff is entitled to. They determine this amount without first considering the percentage of liability of each party. 

If Both Parties File a Claim

In some cases, both parties might file a civil lawsuit. This can happen in car accident cases where both parties are injured, and they each believe that the other one is more responsible for the accident and their injuries. This typically occurs when one party files a lawsuit and the other party files a counterclaim. In this case, the jury would decide the damages for each party and the fault of each party separately. The damages would then be offset based on how much is awarded to each party and how responsible each party is. 

For example, John and Mike are in a car accident. John files a lawsuit against Mike, and Mike files a counterclaim. The jury awards John $40,000 and Mike $100,000. The jury also determines that John was 75 percent at fault for the accident and Mike was 25 percent at fault. John would be entitled to 25 percent of his damages, or $10,000. Mike would be entitled to 75 percent of $100,000, or $75,000. In this case, Mike’s damages would be reduced by the $10,000 he owes John. Mike would receive $65,000, and John would receive nothing.

Contact an Attorney for Assistance

The good news is that even if you were partially at fault for an accident, you can still recover compensation when you file a civil lawsuit. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to see what your options are, as it can sometimes be confusing. An experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney will resolve any issues for you and protect your rights.