What is comparative fault?

What is comparative fault?

When you are injured in a car accident, it can raise all sorts of practical and legal questions from, “How will I make ends meet while I recover?” to “Who is to legally responsible for the crash?” This can be especially true if you were partly to blame for the accident. However, California follows a comparative fault rule, which allows a person to receive compensation from negligent parties for injuries received in an accident even if he or she was negligent as well. Los Angeles car accident attorneys at Ellis Injury Law understand how to best protect the rights of injury victims even if they were partly responsible for the accident. An experienced personal injury lawyer can give a realistic analysis of the question of liability and formulate an appropriate legal strategy. 

Why comparative fault is preferred

Comparative fault is a much fairer development that has evolved from an English Common Law rule known as contributory negligence. Contributory negligence was harsh, preventing a personal injury victim from recovering any compensation from the more at-fault party if the victim was even 1% at fault; it was a total bar on recovery. 

Comparative fault in general, and especially comparative fault in California, is more favorable to those who have suffered injuries. Under comparative fault laws, an injured party who helped cause the accident may often recover from the other party, but the compensation would be reduced in proportion to the victim’s negligence.  

Some states have adopted partial comparative fault laws that allow a plaintiff to recover compensation only if his or her negligence was less than the other party’s negligence, or if the plaintiff’s negligence was no more than 50% of the cause of the accident. California follows a pure comparative negligence law, which allows a plaintiff to recover even if he were mostly to blame. Even if the plaintiff bore 99% of the responsibility and the defendant only bore 1%, the state law would allow the plaintiff to bring a personal injury claim. 

How comparative fault is determined 

Most personal injury lawsuits are resolved by a settlement while a small percentage go to a trial. In a trial, the trier of fact (usually the jury but sometimes the judge) will review the evidence and decide (1) the value of the plaintiff’s claim; and (2) the percentage of fault that each party bears. The value of the claim is then divided in accordance with the apportionment of fault and the plaintiff can recover the overall value of his or her claim minus the amount attributed to him. 

In settlement negotiations, there will not be a formal apportionment of fault. Instead, your car accident lawyer will prepare the strongest case possible and work with the attorneys and adjusters on the other side of the claim to reach an agreement on the amount of damages and the likely degree of fault each party bears. It is very helpful to have an experienced attorney handle this phase because insurance adjusters and defense lawyers tend to exaggerate the effect that a plaintiff’s actions had in causing an accident in order to pressure a low-ball settlement. 

Examples of comparative fault 

Examples may make it easier to understand how comparative fault can play out in a case.  

Driver A is speeding and runs a red light, striking Driver B who was making a legal right turn. However, Driver B was turning directly into the middle lane rather than the far right lane, contributing to the accident. A jury finds that Driver B suffered $100,000 in damages. It also finds that Driver A was 85% at fault, while Driver B was 15% at fault. Driver B receives a verdict for $85,000. 

Driver C, who is startled by a bee in his car, drifts into oncoming traffic and causes a head-on crash with Driver D. Driver D’s injuries were more severe because he was speeding at the time Driver C struck him. Driver D is found to suffer $250,000 in damages. Driver C is found 75% at fault while Driver D is 25% responsible. Driver D can recover $187,500 from Driver C. 

How a personal injury attorney can help 

The thought of pursuing a personal injury claim when you may have contributed to the accident can be intimidating, to say the least. A Los Angeles personal injury lawyer can shoulder much of the burden – doing investigation, building the case, and even handling the communications and negotiations with other parties.  

You do not need to go through this alone. Put your trust in a personal injury lawyer at Ellis Injury Law. Consultations are always free and confidential. Call us today in Los Angeles or one of our other Southern California locations.