An auto accident victim’s recovery amount could be limited if they contributed through negligence to the cause of the collision. Determining who is at fault and legally responsible for an auto accident can be a daunting process. The individual who is filing a lawsuit or an insurance claim is required to prove that the other party was negligent. The defendant, however, may still be able to avoid a portion or all of the liability for the accident if he or she can establish a provable defense.
Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence
Two means exist for dealing with scenarios where both parties were negligent and each contributed to the cause of the collision. The two systems are known as contributory negligence and comparative negligence. We will be looking at the differences here. When an accident such as the following takes place, there is no clear-cut way to establish blame or fault.
Let’s say Paul is driving his family vehicle after dark when Patricia suddenly darts in front of him on foot near an intersection. Trying to establish who is at fault is not a simple matter, because both Paul and Patricia have potentially contributed to this accident.
In cases where both parties are contributors to an auto accident, the determination of how liability is treated depends largely on where you live in the country. A handful of states go by a contributory negligence system, but many more follow a system known as comparative negligence. Here’s a quick rundown on each of these two defenses and their workings.
“Partial” Defense: Comparative Negligence
This method divides fault between the involved parties. Most states have adopted this system, comparative negligence, whereby a defendant can claim a partial defense by placing some of the faults of the collision on the plaintiff.
For example, James was in the process of making a left turn when Gloria sped into the intersection going well above the posted speed limit. James’s vehicle hit Gloria’s car. Gloria got injured and has now sued James for negligence.
With the comparative negligence system, James could be determined to be 75% at fault for colliding with someone while he was making a left turn. In addition, Gloria could be deemed 25% at fault due to her illegal speeding at the time. If the total compensation amount awarded is $100,000, Gloria will only receive 75% after her “fault percentage” is deducted.
Each State Can Have Different Rules for Comparative Negligence
The rules for comparative negligence, like many other rules and laws, can vary vastly from state to state. It seems many states have chosen to use some type of the following two rules, although a few states have unique rules of their own.
“Pure” Comparative Negligence – In locales using “pure” comparative negligence rules, accident victims can end up recovering a portion of compensation for injuries they received in an auto accident even if their own negligence was quite profound or their own amount of fault is deemed to be greater than the defendant’s amount.
Modified Comparative Negligence – In states using the “modified” comparative negligence method, the victim’s recovery amount is limited if his or her fault is higher than a certain percentage. For example, there are states that only allow accident victims to recover any damages if their fault percentage is lower than the defendant’s. In essence, this means that the victim who brought the lawsuit has to be less than 50% at fault to recover any compensation. This is known as the “equal to or greater than” rule. Car accidents in Georgia will be held under this law.
Compare these states with the ones that use the “slight/gross” method. In this system, the plaintiff’s amount of contributory negligence can only be very slight for him or her to be allowed to recover any compensation at all.
In the very few states still using the contributory negligence method, an at-fault driver can potentially avoid any liability at all by proving that an accident victim’s own negligence helped cause the collision. With the contributory negligence doctrine, an accident victim is barred from any recovery of compensation if it is shown that he or she was negligent in any way and contributed to the cause of the accident at all.
This method can produce very harsh results by denying any compensation to victims whose percentage of fault is very slight. Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. are the only states that use this system.
Establishing the Victim’s Negligence
To establish comparative or contributory negligence, the defendant has to successfully prove that the accident victim, through the victim’s own negligence, helped cause the accident. What does it mean when you say that the victim was negligent?
Any individual who uses the roadway, whether they are a driver, pedestrian, or passenger, has a duty to use reasonable care and diligence to protect the safety of others as well as his or her own safety. Should an auto accident victim fail in the duty to protect everyone’s safety, the accident victim is guilty of being negligent and will be deemed partly at fault for any personal injuries received.
In looking at conduct that can be considered negligent, a list of such behaviors includes:
- Driving while intoxicated
- Speeding at the time of the collision
- Darting suddenly into traffic after standing on a corner
- Driving a defective vehicle after dark without working headlights
The listed actions above can easily be recognized as careless, dangerous and negligent. A person using due diligence would not perform such actions, because these behaviors endanger the safety of others on the road.
Negligence of Plaintiff Must Contribute to Accident
A defendant is required to prove that the plaintiff was negligent and thereby contributed to the accident’s occurrence. However, if the behavior of the plaintiff tended to make his or her own injuries worse without actually causing the accident, the defendant has failed to prove the required negligence to hold the plaintiff partially responsible for the accident.
Remember the example given earlier of Paul, the driver, and Patricia, the pedestrian? For Paul to be able to use the defense of contributory negligence against Patricia, should she sue him, he must show that her action of darting into the roadway helped cause the accident and her subsequent injuries.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
The Eichholz Law Firm has years of experience in helping car accident victims get financial compensation. We know the laws involved in these types of cases and what it takes to win a car accident lawsuit. Working with a lawyer is highly recommended when filing a car accident lawsuit as handling a claim on your own may be difficult.
Call us today to set up an initial consultation and to find out how we will fight for you to get the justice and compensation that you deserve.