Under California law, you may be able to recover compensation in a personal injury lawsuit even if you were partly to blame for the accident in which you were injured. The legal concept that underlies this concept is known as comparative negligence. In this blog post, we’ll provide an introduction to the concept and how it works.
Negligence is the legal theory that underlies most personal injury lawsuits, including most car accident cases. The idea behind the theory is that everyone has a duty to avoid unreasonable risks of injury to others. When someone breaches this duty, and injures someone else, the injured can hold the negligent person liable for their damages.
For example, let’s say Amy is driving on a four-lane road when she reaches down to grab something off the floor of her car. While her eyes are off the road, she accidentally swerves into the next lane, colliding with a car driven by Brenda.
The force of the collision forces Brenda’s car off the road and she is injured. Brenda files a personal injury lawsuit against Amy, seeking $100,000 in compensation for her medical bills and other damages.
The court examines the evidence and finds that Amy caused Brenda’s damages through negligence. Therefore, Amy must pay Brenda $100,000.
The above example presents a relatively straightforward case, but many personal injury cases are more complicated. In many cases, more than one party bears part of the fault for the accident.
For example, in the example above, imagine that the court examines all the evidence and finds that both Amy and Brenda contributed to the accident through their negligence. Amy was negligent when she took her eyes off the road to reach for something on the floor of her vehicle. Brenda was negligent because she was speeding.
In such a case, the court would try to quantify how much fault each party bears for the accident. It might determine that Amy bears 75% of the fault and Brenda bears 25%.
Under California’s comparative negligence law, Brenda can recover compensation from Amy, but because she bears 25% of the fault, her recovery is reduced by 25%. Instead of being able to recover the full $100,000 of her damages, Brenda can recover only $75,000.
In fact, California law would allow Brenda to recover compensation from Amy even if Brenda bears the majority of the fault for the accident. However, her recovery would be reduced in proportion to her percentage. Technically, even if she bore 90% of the fault, Brenda could recover compensation from Amy, but her recovery would be reduced by 90%.
How the law might apply to your case
The above examples are just meant to illustrate how the law works. Every accident case presents a different set of facts. Experienced lawyers help the injured and their families understand how the law might apply to the unique set of circumstances behind their case.