Many personal injury cases involve one person who was clearly at fault and a victim who was completely blameless. Many other cases are not so simple. Often, a person who was injured in an accident was partly at fault. If you were partly at fault for your own accident, are you barred from recovering compensation for your damages?
Under California law, the answer is no. California uses an approach known as pure comparative negligence, in which the plaintiff’s own negligence does not prevent them from recovering compensation. In a case where multiple parties contributed to the accident through negligence, the court examines the evidence and assigns a portion of fault to each party.
In fact, under pure comparative negligence, even a plaintiff who was 99% at fault in an accident could conceivably recover compensation from another party who was 1% at fault. However, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of the fault.
Imagine a case in which Phineas and Ferb get into an accident in which Ferb is badly injured. Ferb files suit against Phineas, seeking compensation for $100,000 in damages.
The court examines the evidence and finds that both parties contributed to the accident through negligence. Phineas was texting while driving, and Ferb was speeding. The court determines that Phineas was 70% at fault, while Ferb was 30% at fault.
The fact that Ferb was partly at fault for the accident in which he was injured does not bar him from recovery. However, his recovery is reduced in proportion to his fault. Because he was 30% at fault, his recovery is reduced by 30%. This means if he suffered $100,000 in damages, he can recover only $70,000.
Now imagine that Phineas was injured and files suit against Ferb, seeking compensation for $100,000 in damages. Because the court determined that Phineas was 70% at fault, his recovery must be reduced by 70%. Therefore, he can recover only $30,000 at most.
Cases involving comparative negligence can be complicated. However, they can be important ways to help injured people cope with the long aftermath of a terrible accident. In cases involving serious or catastrophic injury, medical expenses, lost wages and other damages can take a devastating toll. Even a reduced amount of compensation can help.