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California Comparative Negligence Laws

“What Happens if  the Accident was Partly My Fault?”

In California, when you are injured through the carelessness of another, you are entitled to damages to compensate you for resulting property damage, past and future medical bills, wage loss and pain and suffering. BUT, under the Comparative Negligence Doctrine, also known as Comparative Negligence Laws, the amount of damages you can recover may be reduced by any negligence on your part. For example, if you are in a collision with another driver, and you are found to be 25% at fault, the most you can recover is 75% of your damages (whatever that amount is eventually determined to be). In other words, the amount of damages you are entitled to recover is reduced by the same percentage as your degree of fault. (Of course, just because you are entitled to damages does not mean you are going to get them. That’s why you need a lawyer!)

Under the Comparative Negligence Doctrine, an injured party may recover damages even if he or she is at fault for contributing to the accident. The ultimate amount of damages a person can receive (which is determined either through settlement negotiations or trial) will be reduced by their own percentage of fault. This means that a person can recover damages even if he or she is more than 50% at fault for the accident. A skilled personal injury lawyer can walk you through the forest of comparative negligence.

How is Comparative Negligence Applied in California?


A driver is swerving back-and-forth on a busy street. Another driver speeds up to try and pass the swerving driver. The swerving driver smashes into the speeding driver. How should fault be assigned under California’s comparative negligence law?

The swerving driver is clearly the more at fault – perhaps as much as much as 65% or 70%. However, the swerving driver could argue that he would not have crashed into the other car had the driver not been speeding. That is a critical decision because the injured plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by that percentage.


A drunk driver is speeding excessively over the speed limit on the highway at night. Another driver is driving the speed limit, but their headlights are not on. The drunk driver crashes into the car with no headlights on. What is a fair percentage to assign to the less-blameworthy driver?

A jury’s decision could range from 45% to 65%.

The History of California’s Comparative Negligence Law

Prior to the adoption of California’s comparative negligence doctrine in 1975, individuals were awarded personal injury awards stemming from car accidents based on the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if you were just slightly at fault in a car accident, you would be completely barred from recovering monetary damages – even if someone else caused your injury.

Li v. Yellow Cab Co., is a California Supreme Court case that judicially embraced comparative negligence in California tort law, rejecting strict contributory negligence.

Li (P) was struck by a cab driver for Yellow Cab Co. (D) as she was crossing three lanes of traffic to enter a gas station. The cab driver had been driving too fast and had run a yellow light. Li brought this lawsuit to recover for personal injuries and damages arising from the accident.

The trial court entered a judgment barring damages for Li on the grounds that she had been contributory negligent. The case was appealed.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of California held comparative negligence is preferable to the “all-or-nothing” contributory negligence rule. See 13 Cal.3d 804, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226 (1975).

Contact a San Diego Auto Accident Attorney

The Auto Accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Howard Kitay can get you all the legal damages you are entitled to under California Law. Call us today for a personalized appointment to find out how we can help you!

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We serve all of San Diego County with offices in El Cajon, Mission Valley and Chula Vista. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay us out of the settlement, at the end of the case. We advance all costs. If there is no recovery, you owe NOTHING.

Evaluations for personal injury cases are considered on a case-by-case basis. Our San Diego County car accident attorneys can get you the compensation you deserve. We provide legal representation to all of San Diego County, including El Cajon, La Mesa, Spring Valley, San Diego, Mission Valley, Poway, Escondido, Vista, Rancho San Diego, and Chula Vista.

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