What Happens When You Have Some Liability for an Injury You Sustained?
When you have been hurt in an accident, and there are a number of parties whose actions contributed to your injuries, it’s not uncommon for the court to allocate liability and financial responsibility. But what if you were negligent and caused or contributed to the accident? How will that impact your ability to recover damages for your losses?
For most of the history of the law of torts, the legal principle that applied when an injured party was partially at fault was known as “contributory negligence.” Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, as it evolved, a person may not recover damages for any injury if he or she contributed in any way to the accident or injury. This approach led to defense attorneys looking for any basis to allege contributory negligent, no matter how insignificant. It also came to be perceived as unfair—a defendant could be grossly negligent, but be absolved from liability if he or she could show the least amount of carelessness on the part of the injured party.
In the early 20th century, a few jurisdictions rejected contributory negligence, replacing it with the concept of “comparative negligence.” Every state now has some form of comparative negligence statute on the books.
With comparative negligence, the judge and/or jury will make a determination of the total amount of damages/losses, as well as an assessment of the degree of liability of each party. For example, a jury may conclude that the total damages were $100,000 and that the plaintiff (injured party) was 25% responsible. The total damage award will then be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s responsibility. The plaintiff will then receive $75,000 ($100,000-$25,000).
There are two approaches to comparative negligence:
- Pure comparative negligence, where the plaintiff will always receive something, unless determined to be 100% responsible
- Modified comparative negligence, where the injured party will only be entitled to a recovery if his or her liability is less than a fixed percentage (usually 50%). Pennsylvania is a pure comparative negligence state.
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