After a car accident, determining fault is one of the most critical challenges. Being found responsible for an accident could mean having to pay for any damage and higher insurance premiums.
The laws for determining fault in a car accident vary by state. Most important will be whether your state uses contributory negligence or comparative negligence when determining fault.
Common legal terms to know include:
In a personal injury case, your own negligence can be a cause of the accident. But that doesn’t always mean you can’t recover money for your own injuries.
Negligence is generally defined as the failure to use reasonable care that causes harm to another. Examples of negligence that cause car accidents could involve actions like:
To prove a negligence claim, a victim must show that the defendant owed a duty of car and they failed to uphold that duty. All drivers have a “duty of care” to other drivers on the road. The process of proving a negligence claim usually includes:
Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia use the concept of contributory negligence to evaluate a car accident lawsuit. Under this approach, a plaintiff who is at all responsible for the accident, no matter how small, may be denied any compensation.
All other states implement a more nuanced form of negligence known as comparative negligence. It is sometimes called “comparative fault.” This theory recognizes that several factors can contribute to an accident and determines shared responsibility based upon the facts of the case.
Several states, including Arizona, California, Florida, and New York, are governed by what is known as “pure comparative negligence.” In these jurisdictions, even plaintiffs who were 99% responsible for the accident can recover damages.
The remaining states have adopted the principle of “modified comparative negligence.” Under this theory, plaintiffs can recover damages unless they have been determined to be 50% at fault (12 states) or greater than 50% at fault (21 states).
Imagine an accident on a Virginia highway involves a driver who was speeding and who is hit head-on by a car going the wrong way. Since Virginia is a contributory negligence state, the speeding driver will be unable to recover damages even if the accident was caused by the wrong-way driver.
In a Nevada accident, a car driven by a drunk person crashes into the side of a car. The other car made an illegal turn in front of the drunk driver. The drunk driver sues the other motorist and seeks $100,000 in damages. The jury determines that the impaired driver bore a 40% share of responsibility. They conclude that the defendant was at fault and reduce the award by 40% to $60,000.
Comparative vs. contributory negligence laws can be complicated. People who have been injured in a car accident may want to meet with an experienced personal injury attorney to learn what recourse they may have.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local auto accident attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.
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