What You Need to Know About Comparative Negligence

A comparative negligence ruling finds some percentage of fault in all parties involved in an accident. Here is everything you need to know about comparative negligence.

When an accident occurs, comparative negligence allocates a percentage, or proportion, of blame onto those involved, depending on the level of negligence determined for each party. After a level of fault is assigned to each party, the percentage of fault is how the jury ultimately determines the number of damages the defendant and plaintiff are responsible for.

Understanding Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence requires the defendant and plaintiff to pay for damages caused to the opposite party based on the percentage of fault found on both sides. Comparative negligence falls under tort law, which commonly applies to personal injury and property damage civil cases.

Types of Comparative Negligence

The three following comparative negligence rules are protocol in differing jurisdictions nationwide. These types of comparative negligence are followed based on the percentage of fault, or negligence, determined by the parties involved.

1. Pure Comparative Negligence

The pure comparative negligence rule gives the plaintiff the opportunity to collect damages from the defendant, even when the plaintiff is found 99% at fault in the involved accident. The rule means the plaintiff can therefore collect the remaining 1% of damages conducted by the defendant.

Related: What Happens When Your Car is Totaled?

2. Modified Comparative Negligence

The modified comparative negligence rule does not allow the plaintiff to collect assessed damages if the plaintiff is found at fault for negligence over a determined percentage. This percentage is determined by the state in which the accident occurred. 10 states currently hold this percentage as 50% of fault from the plaintiff, while 23 states determine a percentage of 51% or more.

3. Slight/Gross Comparative Negligence

The slight/gross comparative negligence rule replaces the percentage of fault assigned to the parties involved with “slight” and “gross” (or conscious disregard) contributions towards the incident’s occurrence. The rule means the party with the slight contribution to the accident will receive the greater amount in damages covered, while the opposing party with the gross contribution to the accident will get less in damages.

Example of Comparative Negligence

Randy is cruising on the interstate and decided to change lanes with an unknowingly broken tail-light. As he signals to change lanes, he is unaware his broken tail-light fails to alert others to his lane change. He then hits Toby’s car, which is going 30 mph over the speed limit. Both Randy and Toby were ultimately driving recklessly, causing such an accident to unfold.

Both Randy and Toby suffered injuries totaling $5,000 each. The court ultimately finds Randy 49% responsible and Toby 51% responsible for the fault in the accident.

This is how each major type of comparative negligence would likely conclude:

Pure Comparative Negligence

Randy and Toby would both be eligible to collect damages in accordance with the fault determined for each. Randy would be compensated for 51% of damages endured ($2,550) and Toby would get 49% for suffered damages ($2,450).

Modified Comparative Negligence

Jurisdictions following the 50% or 51% negligence rule would determine Toby not eligible for any compensation for damages because his negligence was 51%. Randy, however, would be compensated for his 51% in damages ($2,550) since his negligence portion was only 49% percent.

Related: California Pure Comparative Negligence

Slight/Gross Comparative Negligence

Jurisdictions following the slight/gross negligence rule will ignore Randy’s 49% and Toby’s 51%. Instead, they will determine who had the “slight” and who had the “gross” contribution to the accident. Randy would have had a “slight” contribution to the accident because his negligence was unknown to him, while Toby’s contribution is “gross” since he consciously behaved recklessly, causing his part in the accident. Ultimately, Randy would then be eligible for a larger compensation than Toby since Randy’s contributions were determined to be less than Toby’s.

How is Comparative Negligence Determined?

Compensation for an accident or damages will first go through the insurance company. If a settlement cannot be reached among the parties, then comparative negligence is ultimately resolved and determined in civil court.

1. Insurance Company

First, negligence can be determined upon the insurance company’s award offer to the injured party. Such compensation intends to cover the negligence of the insured client. To determine compensation, the insurance company may undergo interviews with parties involved and witnesses, and further review the accident report. The injured party can attempt to negotiate with the insurance company to reach a more favorable settlement. If this is not possible, then the next step leads the court to determine a true comparative negligence ruling.

2. Civil Court

The courts have the ability to decide and enforce a comparative negligence law, whether determined by a judge or jury. Based on the type of comparative negligence law in a jurisdiction, the court has the final say on how the negligence of all parties is split.

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