Comparative negligence is a type of defense that may be used in personal injury lawsuits that involve claims for negligence. Basically, a comparative negligence defense will assign a percentage of fault to all of the parties involved in an incident. The percentage assigned to each party will then be used to dictate the amount that the injured parties can recover in monetary damages.

For instance, a comparative negligence defense may be used to reduce a defendant driver’s liability or to prevent an injured party from recovering a substantial amount of monetary damages for the injuries they received in an accident. In some cases, a comparative negligence defense may even be used to bar an injured party from recovering any amount of monetary damages.

In general, the theory of comparative negligence is often used as a defense in cases involving injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The reason for this is because it is not always clear who is at fault for causing the accident. Thus, comparative negligence theory can be applied in order to determine which parties should be responsible for paying the resulting damages.

In addition, the percentage of fault that is assigned to a liable party in a lawsuit will help a court to determine the amount of damages that the liable party will be legally obligated to pay to any parties who were injured as a result of their actions and for causing the accident.

Are There Different Types of Comparative Negligence?

Although there may be other forms of comparative negligence, the majority of states use one of three approaches. The first approach is known as the theory of pure comparative negligence. The basic rationale behind this approach is that even though the plaintiff has somehow contributed to their own injuries, they should still be able to recover the portion of damages that are not attributable to them.

For example, if a driver was speeding, but a pedestrian crossed the street without looking both ways first. While the driver is more at fault in this situation, the negligent behavior of the pedestrian also contributed to the accident since their injuries could have been prevented if they had looked both ways before crossing the street first. Thus, the percentage of fault that a jury or judge assigns to them is the amount that will be deducted from their damages award.

For instance, if the pedestrian in the above scenario was initially awarded $10,000, but was found to be 25% at fault for the accident, then they would only recover $7,500 of the initial $10,000 award. California is one out of twelve states that recognizes a pure comparative negligence defense. This means that even if a plaintiff was 99% at fault for the accident in question, they can still recover 1% of the damages.

The second approach that a state may recognize is called a modified comparative negligence defense. This approach is the most common out of the three and bars a party from recovering damages if they are found to be either more or equally responsible for any resulting injuries sustained in an accident. In other words, a driver cannot recover damages if they were fifty percent or more at fault for causing the accident.

States like Iowa and Hawaii have adopted their own versions of the modified comparative negligence approach. This means that a driver in Iowa or Hawaii will not be permitted to recover monetary damages if they are found to be fifty-one percent or more responsible for the other parties’ injuries involved in an accident.

The third approach is actually referred to as the doctrine of pure contributory negligence. This approach is currently only recognized by five states. The doctrine of pure contributory negligence provides that if an injured party is even the slightest bit responsible for causing the accident and the resulting injuries, then they will be fully barred from recovering any damages.

For example, a driver who cuts off another driver while speeding will not be allowed to recover damages if a jury decides that they were even 1% to blame because they were speeding.

Despite the harshness of this third approach, it is intended to deter a person from behaving in a manner that would create an unreasonable risk of injury to not only others, but also to themselves. The rationale behind this is so that a person will learn how to act as a reasonable person in society or else be punished.

Accordingly, if a person fails to act reasonably and puts their life as well as the lives of others in danger, which in turn causes everyone to suffer harm, then that individual can be held liable for their unreasonable conduct.

How Can You Establish a Plaintiff’s Negligence?

The victim of a motor vehicle collision, also known as the plaintiff in a personal injury case, may also be held responsible if they were at fault in causing any of the injuries they received during the accident in question. A plaintiff may be at fault for their own injuries if there is proof that they failed to practice due care while operating a car or other type of motor vehicle.

For example, in some situations, both drivers may be at fault for causing a motor vehicle collision. In fact, any person who operates a motor vehicle owes a standard duty of care to all other drivers on the road. This also includes driving in a manner that would ensure that other passengers in the surrounding vehicles on the road and/or any pedestrians on the street would be kept safe from harm as well.

Thus, in order to prove fault and maximize the amount of damages that one may recover, they would need to prove that the other driver acted without due care by breaching the standard duty of care and driving in a reckless manner, which in turn, caused the motor vehicle accident to occur.

Some other examples that would qualify as proof that another driver failed to exercise due care when operating their motor vehicle may include:

  • Distracted driving (e.g., texting on a cell phone, fiddling with an electronic music device, or any other activity that would interfere with a person’s concentration while driving);
  • Failing to use turn signals (e.g., when switching lanes);
  • Jaywalking and making sudden or unexpected movements as a pedestrian;
  • Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
  • Driving when a person is too tired to keep their eyes open;
  • Failing to obey traffic laws, such as by running through red traffic lights, tailgating, or ignoring stop signs;
  • Riding with an impaired driver;
  • Driving a defective motor vehicle; and
  • Going above the designated speed limit or driving at a speed that is considered too fast for current road and/or weather conditions.

While not all of the examples in the above list may result in a defendant driver being held completely responsible for a car accident, they can likely be used to demonstrate that the defendant was either partially or at least equally to blame for the injuries sustained when the parties’ vehicles collided with one another.

Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer for a Comparative Negligence Defense?

There are many benefits that you can gain from hiring a local personal injury lawyer to defend you against an auto accident lawsuit and any related claims. Specifically, an experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to explain how the laws in your area may affect the outcome of your case. Your lawyer can also discuss the potential remedies or legal defenses that may be available to you based on the individual facts of your case.

In addition, your lawyer will also be able to provide legal representation in civil court, or alternatively, can negotiate a favorable settlement agreement with the opposing party’s counsel on your behalf. Thus, if you would like to sue or are currently being sued for an incident involving a claim for negligence, then you should strongly consider retaining counsel for further legal guidance and assistance that is tailored to your particular legal matter.

Along with all of the benefits just discussed, your lawyer can also make sure that you are taking the proper steps to mitigate your losses and can help you to obtain the best possible result for your case. Lastly, your lawyer will be able to address any important questions or concerns you may have about using a contributory or comparative negligence theory as a defense.