There’s nothing simple about being involved in a car accident. And this is especially true when there’s some question about who caused the accident, or who contributed in some way to the accident taking place. As insurance adjusters and lawyers investigate the accident, they may come to discover that its cause wasn’t black and white, and instead, there may be multiple people at fault for the accident in some way. This is called comparative negligence, and it does have the potential to change the outcome of your case, specifically when it comes to how much compensation you can claim.

Breaking Down Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal principle used to reduce the amount of damage someone can potentially recover in their car accident (or other) case when the case is specifically based on a claim of negligence having caused the damage. It is based on the degree of negligence that each party involved in the accident actually contributed to causing or making that accident worse. An insurance company or court of law might decide to assign, for example, 75% of the fault to one driver and 25% of the fault to the other driver involved. What that means is that when compensation is awarded, the first person can only claim 25% of that overall compensation, while the second person can only claim 75% of that compensation.

There are two types of comparative negligence: pure and contributory. Pure comparative negligence means that the state allows the plaintiff to claim damages for even just the 1% they are not found at fault for, even if they are found to have been 99% at fault. In other words, even though being found 99% at fault for an accident may seem like the accident is pretty much entirely that party’s fault, they are still allowed to collect on that very small 1% that they weren’t found at-fault for. About one-third of states follow this law, and Missouri is one of them.

There’s also a modified type of general comparative negligence that most states follow, and it uses a 50% bar rule. If a plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident, they are barred from recovering any damages. But if they are found 50% or below at fault, they may claim the damages awarded to them.

Contributory negligence states that a plaintiff in a case cannot recover any damages if they are found to have contributed to the accident in any way. In other words, it prevents that 1% from being collected by the person who caused 99% of the accident. Unfortunately, it does also mean that if a person is only found 1% responsible for the accident, then they are also prohibited from collecting 99% of the damages.

What a Case of Comparative Negligence Can Look Like

Because Missouri is a pure comparative negligence state, let’s explore what that can mean in terms of a car accident you’re involved in. Let’s say you’re waiting in the turn lane of a busy road to make a left-hand turn when there’s an adequate break in traffic. The speed on this road is 45mph and it’s a busy road, so you know you’ll need to make your turn quickly when the opportunity presents itself. After a minute, you judge the upcoming break to be adequate, so you make the turn as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, from your angle, it was really difficult to tell just how fast the next oncoming car was going—and it was fast enough to T-bone with your car as you turn.

The damage to both cars is catastrophic, and you both suffer severe injuries that require hefty medical procedures and bills to address. But each of you is claiming the other driver is completely at fault for causing the accident—you’re claiming the oncoming car was going well over the posted speed limit, while the other driver is claiming that you did not make your left turn at a safe time. There’s enough argument from both sides that the case makes its way to trial.

Your car accident attorney argues your case against the other person’s legal team, and by the end of the trial, it’s left up to the jury to determine who is at fault for causing the accident and how much should be awarded based on the circumstances of the accident and the resulting damage and injuries suffered. The jury determines you are deserving of $1 million in damages, but they also determine that you were 40% responsible for causing the accident. That means you are only entitled to collect $600,000 in damages, or 40% less the fault you were found for.

This may seem like a far cry from the $1 million award, but it defies the common misconception that if you’re found responsible for an accident in any way, you have no right to claim any damages. In Missouri as well as a several other states, pure comparative negligence still allows you to claim the damages you are not found at fault for. 

Navigating a Comparative Negligence Case

Building and arguing a case of comparative negligence can be delicate. It takes thorough investigation and close examination of all evidence available, often combined with the insights of accident experts, and an ability to agree to take some responsibility without taking more than you actually should. Only in this way can you ultimately end up with the most favorable outcome possible.

If you’re navigating your own car accident case, be sure to gather as much thorough evidence as possible to start. Obtain police reports, witness statements, traffic camera footage, and photo evidence of the damage to your vehicle and your injuries as well as that of the other person’s. And be sure to receive all the medical care you need in order to address your recovery and keep ample record of those services and their bills. Without thorough evidence, it can be extremely difficult to prove your innocence, whether it’s 100% or less.

If your case is going in the direction of comparative negligence, it would be wise to consult with a legal professional who is experienced not only in car accidents and personal injury, but specifically with cases of comparative negligence. They’re going to be able to provide you with the nuanced expertise a case like yours needs and help prevent it from getting more complicated than it already is. That way you can focus your energy on recovering from your accident and getting your life back on track.

Posted Under: Car Accident, Personal Injury

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