Understanding Comparative and Contributory Negligence in Car Accident Cases

After a car accident in Orange County, you’re left with many questions. Who was really at fault for the crash? Who’s going to pay for your medical bills and property damage? What happens if you were partially to blame?

Learn more about comparative and contributory negligence in car accidents and what these terms mean for you.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

In states that follow contributory negligence rules, drivers can’t collect compensation if they share any blame for their car accident injuries. For example, if a driver hit you but you were speeding, the court wouldn’t award you any compensation.

Contributory negligence rules can lead to devastating outcomes for car crash victims. Often, they face hefty medical bills and have no recourse for compensation if they share even the smallest amount of blame for the accident.

Before the implementation of workers’ compensation laws, contributory negligence made it difficult for employees to recover damages for accidents on the job. If the employer could prove that the employee contributed to the accident in any way, the court would not award them compensation.

California does not follow contributory negligence rules. The only four states that follow these rules are Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Instead of contributory negligence, California follows comparative negligence rules. Under comparative negligence rules, car crash victims can still recover damages even if they shared some liability for the accident. Some states follow modified comparative negligence rules, but California follows pure comparative negligence rules.

Modified Comparative Negligence

In states that follow modified comparative negligence, drivers can’t recover compensation if they were 50% or more at fault for the accident. Some states, though, implement a threshold of 51%.

States that follow the 50% threshold include:

  • Maine
  • Kansas
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia
  • Nebraska
  • West Virginia
  • Utah
  • Idaho

In 21 other states, courts award damages based on a 51% threshold.

Pure Comparative Negligence

California assigns damages based on pure comparative negligence rules. So, even if you were 99% at fault for an accident, you’d still recover 1% of your total damages award.

This can come as a relief for many Orange County car accident victims. But you should know that under pure comparative negligence rules, it’s possible for the other driver to recover damages, too.

For instance, if a court awarded you 80% of your total damages, you would still be responsible for 20% of the other driver’s damages.

It can be hard to understand comparative and contributory negligence in car accident cases. If you have questions, an Orange County car accident lawyer can explain more.

How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Insurance Payouts?

After a car accident in Orange County, you’ll need to file a claim with both your insurer and the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Insurance companies rely on comparative negligence rules to determine the amount of compensation they pay you. This means that if an insurance adjuster says you were 70% at fault for the accident, the company will only pay 30% of your total damages.

When dealing with the insurance company, it’s important to not say anything it could use against you. Never admit blame, even if you think you caused the accident or were partially at fault.

Don’t downplay your injuries, either. See a doctor as soon as possible after your accident so you have a record of treatment and documentation outlining the severity of your injuries. Without this documentation, the insurer might lower your damages award, or even refuse to pay you at all.

Even though insurance will pay for medical bills and damage to your car, it doesn’t cover lost wages or mental distress. To seek compensation for such damages, you’ll need to file a personal injury lawsuit.

How Does a Court Decide Liability in Car Accident Cases?

How do you know who’s truly to blame for your car accident? Orange County courts don’t leave it up to the drivers to decide.

If your case goes to court, a judge may decide liability on their own. Sometimes, a jury will assign liability with instructions from the judge.

The jury does not make this decision arbitrarily. It will consider factors such as:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Causes
  • Damages

What is a duty of care? This simply means that one party should have taken reasonable steps to avoid harming others.

A driver may breach their duty of care if they caused an accident because they were speeding. Other ways a driver can breach this duty include:

  • Ignoring road signs and traffic lights
  • Talking or texting on the phone while driving
  • Driving while intoxicated from alcohol or drugs
  • Driving while fatigued from lack of sleep

If a jury finds that the other driver breached their duty of care, that driver may need to pay for:

  • Past, present, and future medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Lost wages if you’re too hurt to work
  • Permanent disabilities and disfigurement
  • The cost to hire an in-home aide if you need help taking care of yourself 

Car Accident Cases with Multiple Liable Parties

What happens in car accident cases involving multiple responsible drivers? California still follows comparative negligence when it comes to collecting damages in cases like these. Each party can recover damages based on their responsibility for the accident. For instance, one driver can collect damages from each liable party, and those drivers may collect damages from each other.

California calls this joint-and-several liability. But it’s important to know that joint-and-several liability covers financial damages only. You will need to recover non-financial damages separately.

When to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer

Legally, Orange County allows you to represent yourself in a personal injury lawsuit. But self-representation rarely goes the way anybody hopes.

An attorney can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and put together a strong case that proves who was to blame in your accident. You’ll have a better chance of winning more compensation with a seasoned personal injury lawyer by your side.

To learn more about comparative and contributory negligence in car accidents and talk to an experienced car accident lawyer, call Khalili Law Group at (714) 617-7870.

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