Understanding Comparative Negligence

When you’re injured in an accident in California you’ll probably have a lot of questions. Who is liable? What compensation can you recover, and from whom? What happens if I’m partly to blame for the accident? What if I’m injured in an accident that is mostly my fault? What kind of damages can I recover? These are all legitimate and important questions to consider in the wake of an accident.

At Joshua W. Glotzer APC, our California personal injury attorneys have decades of experience helping clients understand their legal rights and options after an accident or injury. Here, we answer a common question we get from our clients – “What happens if I am partly to blame for an accident?” In short – you’re not barred from recovering compensation from the other party, but what you can recover will be limited.

California Negligence Law

California law follows what is known as the pure comparative negligence standard. The most basic explanation of pure comparative negligence is this: you are liable for the degree to which an accident or injury was your fault. This means that in California any party – so long as they were not 100% at fault – can potentially recover some compensation for injuries stemming from an accident.

For example, let’s say that you were involved in a car accident last month. You were slightly distracted while driving because you were talking on your phone. The driver of the car that struck you was exceeding the speed limit by 35 miles per hour. You were both injured in the accident and both file personal injury lawsuits to recover compensation from one another. You claim that the driver of the speeding car was negligent in his operation of the vehicle because he was speeding. The other driver claims that you were negligent in the operation of your vehicle because you were talking on the phone. In the eyes of California law, you are both correct. Each of you will probably be able to recover compensation from the other – or more accurately, from the other’s insurance company.

If your cases proceed to court the judge will determine the degree to which each of you is at fault. All factors and circumstances surrounding the accident will be taken into account during this determination. The greater the breach of duty to drive safely, the greater the degree of culpability assigned.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that you are found to be 30% at fault for the accident, while the speeding driver is found to be 70% at fault. What does this mean for your recovery of compensation? Any compensation you receive will be capped at 70% – meaning that if you are seeking $100,000 in damages the most you can be awarded is $70,000. The other driver, if also seeking $100,000 in damages, would be able to recover $30,000 at most. In California negligence lawsuits, damages are reduced by the degree to which you are determined to be at fault for the incident.

Experienced Negligence Attorneys

If you are partially at fault for an accident in which you are injured it is important to seek the assistance of a qualified California negligence attorney. An attorney can help to develop legal defenses and reduce the degree to which you determined to be responsible for the incident. Getting an attorney’s assistance is especially important if your opponent in the matter is an insurance company. These companies are not in the business of handing out cash to every accident victim who files a claim. They will do everything in their power to minimize any payouts they make to you. In fact, they will likely deny any wrongdoing and try to pin the blame on you.