Comparative Negligence

Deciding who is at fault in a traffic accident is something that is difficult to decide on. It is a bonus for investigators whenever they are able to encounter something that is easily decided upon because of apparent signs. Suppose we have two drivers: Abby and Brian. Abby stops at a stop sign and prepares to turn left onto a busier road with no stop sign. She looks both ways multiple times, and decides to make her turn when the road seems to be clear. Meanwhile, Brian barrels down the road 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. He’s unable to slow down and slams into Abby’s car. Here, both parties share some of the fault: Brian definitely should not have been speeding, but Abby should have been a bit more attentive and cautious before making her turn. There could be difficulty in pinpointing who is responsible.

Comparative Negligence Theories and How They Work

Comparative negligence is used to split the liabilities of different parties. These theories reduce liability if it be proven that they will have some contribution to the injury that was attained. This situation is often referred to as “apportionment of fault” or “allocation of fault.”

Suppose Abby sues Brian and claims that she suffered damages of $100,000. Assume further that the jury finds that Abby’s own negligence contributed to the accident by 30 percent and Brian’s negligence contributed by 70 percent. If the jury agrees that damages are worth $100,000, Abby would only be able to recover $70,000 (or $100,000 reduced by 30 percent caused by her own negligence). If, conversely, Abby’s negligence was found to have contributed 70 percent to the accident, she could only recover $30,000 for the 30 percent fault for which Brian was responsible.

This example is true in states that apply a “pure” theory of comparative negligence. However, some states have created modified comparative negligence principle where a lawsuit can only be filed if the fault is less than 50% of the fault that caused the injury.

Pure Contributory Negligence

Injured parties may not collect damages in states that recognize the pure contributory negligence rule, injured parties may not collect damages if they are as little as one percent to blame for the incident. Only five states follow this legal rule: Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Pure Comparative Fault

Another theory is on pure comparative fault. This is when the states applying this rule recognize the pure comparative fault rule of accident liability. This allows parties to collect for damages even if they are 99 percent at fault. However, the amount of damages is limited by the party’s actual degree of fault. So if a drunk driver is predominately to blame for an accident, but makes an injury claim because the other driver had a burned out taillight, he or she may collect a minimal amount of damages. Nearly one-third of states follow this rule, including California, Florida, and New York.

Modified Comparative Fault

Most states (majority) follow the modified comparative fault model. This model is split into two distinct categories: the 50 percent bar rule and the 51 percent bar rule. In states following the 50 percent rule (including Colorado and Utah), a party that is 50 percent or more responsible for an accident may not recover any damages. In states that adhere to the 51 percent rule, a party may not recover if he or she is 51 percent at fault.

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