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In the aftermath of a car accident, determining liability is one of the first steps that a car accident lawyer takes. Each state has different laws regarding comparative negligence; the statutes in your state determine whether you can demand compensation after a wreck, and how much you may receive. The legal team at Marsh | Rickard | Bryan, LLC explores these critical legal doctrines and explains how your state’s laws influence determinations of liability and compensation in car accident claims.

Comparative Fault

Comparative fault is a legal principle used in many states to apportion liability for damages among parties involved in an accident based on their respective degrees of fault. Under comparative fault rules, even if a plaintiff is partially at fault for causing the accident, they may still recover damages from other negligent parties, albeit reduced by their percentage of fault.

There are two main types of comparative fault systems:

  • Pure Comparative Fault: In states that follow pure comparative fault principles, injured parties can recover damages even if they are predominantly responsible for the accident. However, their recovery is reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if a plaintiff is found to be 30% at fault for an accident, they can still recover 70% of the total damages awarded.
  • Modified Comparative Fault: Some states have adopted modified comparative fault rules, which impose a threshold or “bar” beyond which injured parties cannot recover damages if they are found to be equally or more at fault than the other party. Typically, if a plaintiff’s fault exceeds the threshold (often set at 50% or 51%), they are barred from recovering any damages. If their fault falls below the threshold, their recovery is reduced proportionally to their percentage of fault.

Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that operates as a complete defense to liability in some jurisdictions. Under contributory negligence rules, if a plaintiff’s own negligence contributes to causing the accident in any way, they are barred from recovering any damages, regardless of the degree of fault attributable to other parties.

Contributory negligence is a harsh rule that denies recovery to plaintiffs who share any degree of fault for the accident. As a result, even if the defendant’s negligence is far more egregious, a plaintiff who is found to be even slightly negligent may be precluded from recovering damages.

Impact On Car Accident Cases

Comparative fault and contributory negligence may influence the outcome of car accident suits by:

  • Shifting the focus to determining each party’s degree of fault through investigation, evidence gathering, and expert testimony.
  • Providing defendants with opportunities to argue that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the accident and should reduce their recovery or bar them from recovery altogether.
  • Influencing the amount of damages awarded to injured parties based on their percentage of fault, if applicable.
  • Encouraging parties to settle disputes out of court to avoid the uncertainties and risks associated with trial proceedings and potential liability determinations by judges or juries.

Understanding these principles is essential for both plaintiffs and defendants involved in car accident litigation to effectively navigate legal proceedings, assess potential liabilities, and pursue favorable outcomes.


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