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During a vehicle accident claim with your car accident lawyer, one might hear the phrases contributory or comparative negligence. These are two legal concepts that can apply to car accident claims in which the person claiming damages may bear fault for the accident. These rules can decide how much compensation a plaintiff receives, and are common defenses to car accident claims. Most states obey comparative fault laws, but some still use older contributory negligence statutes. California is a comparative negligence state.
Contributory negligence California laws state that a plaintiff, or injured party, cannot receive any compensation at all if he or she negligently contributed to the accident. Contributory negligence completely bars a plaintiff from recovery if the courts find evidence that he or she was negligent in a way that led up to the accident in question. Even a plaintiff found 1% at fault for the accident will lose his or her right to seek damages in a contributory negligence state.
Most jurisdictions have abolished this common law tort rule, replacing it instead with the comparative negligence concept. Only four states and Washington, D.C. still use contributory negligence laws. In these states, a plaintiff could receive zero dollars for serious injuries if he or she contributed to the incident at all – even if the defendant’s actions were much worse. It is extremely important to hire an attorney in a contributory negligence state to improve your odds of securing compensation.
Comparative negligence rules give a plaintiff more leeway for error than contributory negligence. These rules state that a plaintiff may still recover a portion of damages if his or her negligence contributed to the accident. The plaintiff will lose the amount of his/her compensation award equivalent to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
If a case was worth $100,000, for example, but the courts found the plaintiff 10% at-fault, the plaintiff would still be eligible for the remaining $90,000. The plaintiff in this example would lose $10,000, or 10% of the total compensation amount, for his/her comparative fault. It is up to the plaintiff and his/her attorney to try to reduce the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. The two different types of comparative negligence rules are pure and modified.
Pure comparative negligence gives a plaintiff the opportunity to recover damages regardless of the percentage of fault. In pure comparative negligence states, a plaintiff could still be eligible for recovery even if he or she was 99% at-fault for the accident. Modified comparative negligence rules shrink the window of opportunity for compensation for plaintiffs. In a modified state, a plaintiff may have to be less than 50% or 51% responsible for the accident to receive damages. Fault greater than the set amount would bar the plaintiff from recovery.
California is a pure comparative negligence state. This means during a car accident or other personal injury claim in California, the plaintiff can be anything less than100% at-fault and still be eligible for financial compensation from the defendant. The plaintiff will receive a reduced award, however, if the courts find the plaintiff a percentage at-fault for the accident. It is the plaintiff’s job, therefore, to reduce his/her percentage of fault by proving the defendant’s negligence.
Proving fault and maximizing compensation are two jobs best left to a personal injury attorney. A car accident lawyer understands contributory vs. comparative fault laws and can help a plaintiff minimize his/her fault for an accident. Hiring an attorney can come with resources such as subject-matter experts, investigators, and accident re-creators who may be able to help a plaintiff prove the defendant was 100% at fault. If you are unsure whether California’s negligence laws entitle you to compensation, discuss your case with an attorney.