Car wrecks can happen so fast that it can be really hard to say with absolute certainty exactly who was at fault. Quite often, mistakes by one driver compound another driver’s mistakes, and that leads to a crash where there’s shared liability for all the damage caused. That’s where comparative negligence comes into play, which is a way to assign each party a certain degree of fault for an accident. Any damages awarded to an injured party are then reduced by their assigned percentage of fault.
Every state handles this situation in its own way, and many states use a modified version of comparative negligence that prohibits anybody who is more than 50% at fault for a wreck from recovering damages, but California does not. You can still recover damages in this state even if you’re 99% responsible for a crash.
How does this work in practice?
Imagine there is a car accident involving two drivers, Aaron and Ben. Aaron was rear-ended by Ben at a red light and both were injured and suffered property damage. It is determined that Aaron’s car had a broken taillight, which made it difficult for Ben to see that Aaron’s car had stopped. As a result, both parties share some level of responsibility for the accident.
During the investigation and legal proceedings when Aaron sues and Ben countersues, the court determines that Aaron’s broken taillight contributed 10% to the accident, while Ben’s failure to maintain a safe following distance contributed 90%.
If the total damages awarded in this case are $100,000 to each party, the court would reduce the damages by the percentage of fault assigned:
- Aaron would be entitled to receive $90,000 ($100,000 – 10%).
- Ben (or his insurer) would be responsible for paying Aaron $90,000, reflecting his 80% share of the fault for the car accident.
- Ben would be entitled to receive $10,000 ($100,000 – 90%).
- Aaron (or his insurer) would be responsible for paying Ben $10,000, reflecting his 10% share of the fault for the crash.
It’s easy to see why car wreck claims can get very complicated, very quickly. With that in mind, it’s wise to learn more about your options for pursuing fair compensation for your losses in the aftermath of a wreck. Seeking legal guidance is a good place to start.