Car accident claims can be very difficult and confusing for the everyday driver, and the fact that laws change between states doesn’t help. These differences can have a drastic effect on your accident claim, and the compensation you can receive for your injuries. Fault is almost always a highly contested aspect of any auto accident case, as are the injuries that result. The injuries sustained by the victim of the accident can be both caused by the at-fault driver and the victim as well. Something as simple as not wearing a seatbelt can virtually ruin a car accident claim in some states, and lower the final settlement in others.
When the injury is found to have been caused in part by the victim, it can become a case of comparative negligence.
What is Comparative Negligence?
A rule of law that breaks up damages from an auto accident claim based on whether or not the victim had a role in causing some of their injuries. One of the more common reasons comparative negligence can come into play is when the victim is not wearing a seatbelt. In a case like this, even if the at-fault driver ran a red light and collided with the victim in the intersection, some of the injury may have been avoided if the victim was wearing a seat belt. In a case like this, the insurance company will stress that some of the injuries could have been avoided had the victim not been negligent, so they will argue for comparative negligence.
In the United States, there are four different systems of comparative negligence law, and they change from state to state. The different systems are: pure comparative negligence, pure modified comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence with a 50% bar rule, and modified comparative negligence with a 51% bar rule.
Pure Contributory Negligence Negligence:
Law of: Virginia, Alabama, District of Columbia, North Carolina, Maryland.
The at-fault party will not be held responsible for paying any damages if the victim is found to have any degree of responsibility in the accident. For example, if Joe hits Scott’s car and Scott is injured as a result, but the jury finds him responsible for 10% of the injury, then he will not receive any compensation. Under this set of laws, the at-fault driver must be 100% responsible for the victim’s injuries, or else they do not have to pay any damages. In this system, even a minor role in the damages can ruin an auto accident claim. This system has roots from British law, but is only used in 4 states, and Washington D.C. The other 45 states have laws that offer more protection to auto accident victims.
Comparative negligence differs greatly from contributory negligence in that it offers some compensation for a victim even if they are partially responsible for their injuries. There rules regulating this division of an injury settlement differ, however, from state to state. The systems of comparative negligence are known as: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence.
Pure Comparative Negligence:
Law of Washington State, Alaska, California, Arizona, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota
Fault for the injury is broken into an exact percentage, and the victim is paid out for the damages that were caused by the person deemed at-fault for the accident. If the victim played a role in their own injuries, the judge or jury deciding the trial will determine how much.
Example: Joe and Scott get into an accident. The jury decides that Joe, the at-fault driver is responsible for 90% of the damages, while Scott did not wear a seatbelt, and is responsible for 10%. Let’s say that the final total for damages is $100,000. In a comparative negligence system, Joe would pay $90,000 and Scott would be responsible for the other $10,000.
Modified Comparative Negligence-50% bar rule
Law of: Colorado, Arkansas, Kansas, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, West Virginia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah.
This system is similar to the one above, however the victim must be responsible for less than 50% of their injuries. If it is found that they are responsible for more, they will not receive any compensation.
Modified Comparative Negligence- 51% bar rule
Law of: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
This is just like the system above, only with a small tweak that actually makes a big difference. Under this law, the victim has to be responsible for less than 51% of their damages to get compensated accordingly. This is very important, because it is not uncommon for a judge or jury to split the responsibility of an accident as 50/50. If that were the case in a state with this law, the victim would receive some damages for their injury. If the victim is thought to be responsible for 51% of the damages or more he is awarded nothing.
Understanding auto accident laws can be challenging. If you have been injured in a car accident, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately to get advice on your case.