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Understanding Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence refers to a partial defense in tort matters. If an accident victim wants to sue an individual who injured them, the defendant can hide under comparative negligence to minimize the plaintiff’s entitlement.

This piece highlights how comparative negligence affects injury lawsuits and the compensation available for the injured through another person’s negligence or intentional recklessness.

Understanding Comparative Negligence

When someone injures another person, the victim can file a personal injury claim. If the victim successfully proves that the defendant violated a legal responsibility that led to damage, the victim is entitled to financial compensation for their loss(es).

On the other hand, the accused can raise defenses, and comparative negligence is one such defense. According to the doctrine of comparative negligence, a victim partly responsible for the occurrence which led to their injury is only entitled to part of their damages. And in some instances, they cannot recover anything, depending on the magnitude of the blame.

The Doctrine of Comparative Negligence

Apart from Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, which operate contributory negligence rules, other states in the United States use the doctrine of comparative negligence. In these states, you can retrieve monetary damages from a defendant who shares the blame for injuring you, but your compensation will be reduced based on your contribution to the mishap.

The specific rules of when a victim can get a claim depend on their state because some use pure comparative negligence rules while others adopt modified comparative negligence rules. Let us explain them briefly:

Pure Comparative Fault States

A victim can recover compensation despite the defendant’s minimal responsibility for causing the harm. For instance, if an accused was one percent to blame for a crash, the victim could receive compensation for one percent of their losses.

Modified Comparative Fault States

A victim can only recover compensation if the defendant was at least 50 or 51 percent responsible for causing the injury (depending on the location). However, the court will reduce the damage award based on the percentage of blame with the victim. Conversely, if the victim had a significant portion of the guilt, they cannot make any claim.

“If you are confused, you need an experienced personal injury attorney to enlighten you on the rules applicable in your state and case,” says attorney Ronald F. Wittmeyer, Jr. of the Law Offices of RF Wittmeyer.

Shedding Light on Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence was the conventional rule for tort cases before many states changed it due to its perceived unfair results.

In contributory negligence rules, a victim who is partly guilty of causing their injuries cannot claim damages. It means an individual who was one percent responsible for a crash cannot obtain monetary damages from a defendant with 99 percent blame.

On the other hand, comparative negligence rules allow a victim to seek restitution even if they share in the blame for the accident.

Elements of Comparative Negligence

A defendant can claim comparative negligence as a defense to liability if a victim pursues a personal injury claim. A defendant must demonstrate the following to prove comparative negligence:

  • The victim had the duty of taking action to avoid being injured
  • The victim failed to take action a logically prudent individual would have taken in the same context
  • The plaintiff’s negligent failure partly or wholly led to the injuries that triggered the lawsuit

If a defendant cannot prove these defenses in a personal injury case, they are liable for any accusation. Hence, the burden of claim in this instance rests on the defendant.

The court will often use the reasonable person standard to compare the defendant’s action to what a hypothetical average logical individual would do. Sometimes, the authorities will use a professional standard of care and compare the defendant’s actions with what a similar professional would do. For instance, in malpractice issues, you can compare the doctor’s conduct with what a similarly trained physician would have done.

A plaintiff must also prove that a defendant breached their expected responsibility. It means the defendant did not act with the same level of care as a logical person or sane professional would do.

Once you can establish these elements, depending on your side, you will win the case.

Types of Comparative Negligence

A defendant can raise a comparative negligence defense if they believe a plaintiff was partly guilty of their harm.

Defendants can raise comparative negligence defenses in auto accidents, dog bites, wrongful death, bike accidents, pedestrian crashes, slip and falls, motorcycle mishaps, and truck accidents.

The victim’s state negligence law dictates the amount they may receive when filing an accident claim against the accused.

Pure Comparative Negligence Law

This law allows both motorists in a crash to demand compensation for damages, not minding their share of the blame in the accident. It means someone 99 percent responsible for the mishap could file a claim. However, the law lowers your settlement by the extent of guilt.

For instance, if you are 99 percent guilty, the court will minimize your settlement amount by 99 percent. Summarily, everyone is responsible for their percentage of the blame and can only seek compensation for the portion they are not responsible for.

The states operating pure comparative negligence laws include Alaska, Arizona, Florida, California, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, and New Mexico.

Modified Comparative Negligence

This law allows a plaintiff to collect compensation from the other party only if the former’s level of guilt is under a given threshold.

Two threshold rules are applicable here—a 50 percent rule and a 51 percent law.

The 50 percent threshold states that a plaintiff cannot claim compensation if they are 50 percent or more responsible. Similarly, the 51 percent threshold says that an individual with 51 percent guilt cannot seek compensation from the other party’s insurance firm.

The table below highlights the states practicing each threshold:

50 Percent Rule Modified CN States51 Percent Rule Modified CN States
North DakotaMichigan
 New Hampshire
 New Jersey
 South Carolina
 West Virginia
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