It’s relatively easy to understand the idea behind a typical motor vehicle accident lawsuit: One person negligently caused injury to another, and so the negligent person can be held liable for the injured person’s damages.
Most personal injury lawsuits work that way, but many are not so straightforward. For instance, in many cases more than one party acts negligently. How does personal injury law work in these situations?
The answer involves another concept known as comparative negligence.
What is comparative negligence?
Traditionally, courts held that a person whose negligence contributed to their own injury was barred from recovering compensation for their damages in a personal injury lawsuit. This was true even in cases where the injured person did very little wrong while the other party clearly bore most of the blame for the accident.
This harsh rule, sometimes known as “contributory negligence,” can lead to results that strike many people as deeply unfair. And that’s how the law still works in some states.
Other states changed their laws over the years in an effort to make things more fair. Illinois law now uses a system known as “modified comparative negligence.” Under this system, a court determines how much blame each party holds for the accident, and expresses this share as a percentage. As long as an injured party’s share is less than 50% they can recover compensation from the other party (or parties). However, the injured party’s recovery is reduced according to their percentage of fault.
The best way to explain this law is through studying an example.
Let’s say you’re driving southbound on a rainy day when a northbound driver drifts into your lane and collides with your vehicle. You are injured and your medical bills and other damages come out to $100,000. You file suit against them, seeking compensation for $100,000.
The court reviews the evidence and finds that, despite the rainy weather, you negligently neglected to have your headlights on. As a result, your negligence contributed to the accident. The court finds that you were 25% at fault and the other driver was 75% at fault.
Because your share is less than 50%, you can recover compensation from the other driver. However, your recovery must be reduced by the same percentage as your fault. Since you were 25% at fault, your recovery is reduced by 25%. Instead of $100,000, you can recover $75,000.
Who can use comparative negligence?
You can use comparative negligence to your advantage, but the other side can also use it to your disadvantage.
If you were partly at fault for your accident, comparative negligence gives you a way to recover much-needed compensation — even if it is somewhat reduced. However, it’s more common for the other side to bring up comparative negligence in an argument aimed at reducing the amount of money they have to pay you.
The details van vary greatly from case to case. Those who have been injured in a car accident can speak to experienced professionals about how comparative negligence law may affect their chances of recovering compensation.