How Comparative and Contributory Negligence Rules Apply in Car Accidents

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Car Accidents

Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration state that over 5 million police-reported motor vehicle crashes occurred in 2020 alone. Determining who was at fault in these millions of accidents involves complicated legal processes, with outcomes hinging on police reports, insurer decisions, or courtroom verdicts based on liability laws. Laws for establishing fault differ by state across the US. However, most states employ comparative and contributory negligence rules standards to assign fault in personal injury claims after car accidents.

For accident victims suddenly plunged into confusing legal processes, terms like “comparative negligence” and “contributory negligence” often raise more questions. This piece breaks down the core concepts of these pivotal fault rules in straightforward terms.

Defining Negligence and Proving Liability

When you seek legal help after a car accident, your lawyer will prove liability and negligence for your car accident claim to be successful. Here are some of the negligence elements following a car accident:

  • Duty of care โ€“ The accused must have had an obligation to keep you safe and out of harm’s way.
  • Breach of duty โ€“ There was a failure by the at-fault party to fulfill an obligation or a breach of duty of care.
  • Causation โ€“ The conduct of the at-fault party must have been the proximate cause of the accident and resulting injuries.
  • Damages โ€“ There was an impact on your life to a substantial extent, either financially, physically, emotionally, or through a loss of life, due to the accident.

It is worth noting that multiple parties can share blame in an accident. You will require an attorney’s investigation to determine who contributed to the damages.

Who Is Said to Be Negligent in a Car Accident?

If an accident case goes to trial, the jury determines which party or if both parties were negligent in leading to the accident. In the scenario where both parties are liable, the jury decides each driver’s fault percentage, adding up to 100%.

Liability laws in different states determine how much the injured party recovers in a lawsuit. Typically, states are divided based on:

  • Contributory negligence
  • Modified comparative fault
  • Pure comparative fault

Contributory Negligence

These rules state that a plaintiff is not compensated if they contributed to the accident. It does not matter whether the contribution is as low as 1%; they will not recover any damages. States like Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina use this approach.

Comparative Negligence

This is a form of negligence rule that is more nuanced. Also referred to as comparative fault, the laws look at several factors that led to the accident and establish shared responsibility. Comparative negligence is further divided into modified and pure comparative negligence laws.

Modified Vs. Pure Comparative Negligence

In states like California and New York, pure comparative negligence is applied. A plaintiff can seek and recover damages even if they are 99% at fault.

Other states use modified comparative negligence, which follows the 50% or 51% rule.

In the application of modified comparative negligence, plaintiffs cannot recover monetary damages if they are found to be at fault beyond these determined percentages.

If the state uses the 50% bar rule, the plaintiff will not recover damages if their fault was determined at 50% or more.

States such as Oregon and Illinois use the 51% bar rule, where plaintiffs are not allowed to recover if they are found to be 51% or more at fault.

Comparative Negligence
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Let an Attorney Assist You

Determining comparative negligence rules percentages, liability caps, and state-specific rules alone after an accident can overwhelm you. You don’t have to walk this journey alone. Instead, partner with an experienced personal injury attorney. They have expertise in localized negligence rules and guidelines and can conduct comprehensive investigations into all.