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Understanding Contributory Fault

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Understanding Contributory Fault

If you’ve been injured in an accident in California, you are probably wondering how much compensation you might be able to receive in a personal injury case. This complex question is better left to an experienced personal injury lawyer.

However, a basic understanding of how contributory fault works in California can give you an idea of some factors that will be at play in determining how much your case is worth.

How Does Shared Fault Affect My Personal Injury Claim?

Determining fault is the key to any personal injury claim. In a car accident, for example, there may be just one party responsible for causing your injuries. However, many accidents have multiple causes. For example, in complex catastrophic events such as truck accidents or construction accidents, multiple companies are often involved. 

Every state has different laws on how it treats negligence cases if more than one person is at fault. If you are partly responsible for the accident, those laws will determine whether you can still recover compensation and, if so, how much your award will be reduced.

Types of Contributory Fault

Overall, there are two main models of shared fault – contributory negligence and comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is further broken down into two subcategories.

Contributory Negligence

Under this model, if the injured party’s own negligence contributed to their injuries in any way, they are barred from recovering any compensation. Contributory negligence is the harshest model since it does not take into account the proportion of harm caused by the injured party. Even if the plaintiff (injured party) is 1% negligent, they are completely barred from recovery.

While it has been abolished in most jurisdictions, Maryland, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia still use this model.

Pure Comparative Negligence

Pure comparative negligence is the most equitable in that it looks at the percentage of the accident caused by the injured party and reduces the award accordingly. If you were 20% at fault for an accident, your compensation would be reduced by 20%. Basically, it means that the defendant is not responsible for paying for the portion of your injuries that were caused by your own negligence.

In a pure comparative negligence model, you can still recover compensation if you were up to 99% responsible for the accident. Of course, that means you would only receive 1% of the total award in that case.

California follows the pure comparative negligence rule, along with Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Using a modified comparative negligence rule, an injured party can still recover compensation if they were partly responsible for the accident, but only up to a certain point. This rule is sort of like a combination of contributory negligence and pure comparative negligence.

Under modified comparative negligence, if the level of fault assigned to you is less than the law’s limit, you can still recover some compensation. However, your financial award will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you.

The level of fault allowed before financial recovery is completely barred varies from state to state. Some states have a 51% bar for recovery. That means that if you were found to share 51% or greater responsibility for your accident, you would be prevented from receiving any compensation from the defendant(s).

In states with a 50% bar, you cannot recover any compensation if you were 50 percent or more at fault.

States with a 50% bar to recovery are Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

States with a 51% bar to recovery are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

How Can I Minimize the Consequences of Contributory Fault in California?

You can easily see how being partly responsible for an accident can reduce the amount of compensation you could receive in a personal injury case. In California, as long as you are not completely responsible for your accident, you’ll still be able to receive some compensation.

If you’re in an automobile accident and file an insurance claim, you can bet that the insurance company will be looking for ways to pin the blame on you. They know that if they can successfully argue that you were responsible, they can whittle away your award to next to nothing. You should never admit fault after an accident.

It’s best to talk to a knowledgeable and trustworthy personal injury attorney to help you navigate the process. They’ll conduct an investigation to determine the exact cause of your accident, fight to recover compensation from the at-fault party and protect you when you’re unfairly blamed.