What Happens If You Are Partially Responsible for Causing a Crash?
Though there are many motor vehicle accidents where the courts ultimately find only one party responsible, the reality is that many crashes are caused by carelessness or negligence by both the person seeking damages and the party being sued. For example, a motorist may make an illegal turn or fail to stop at a stop sign and you may have been speeding. If the motorist had not turned into your path, the accident would not have happened, but if you hadn’t been speeding, it wouldn’t have happened, either. What happens when you’re involved in a motorcycle accident where there’s liability attributed to both parties?
For centuries, the principle of contributory negligence applied to such a situation. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, a person who contributed in any way or to any degree in causing the accident that caused his/her injuries could not recover any compensation. As the principle developed, defense attorneys adopted a strategy of looking for any evidence of carelessness or negligence on the part of the injured person (the plaintiff). That led to situations where a grossly negligent person could escape responsibility for injuries suffered by someone who was only nominally careless.
The perceived unfairness of the contributory negligence approach led lawmakers across the country to adopt a new approach. All states now use some form of “comparative negligence” to determine how liability will be allocated when both parties were at fault. The comparative negligence scheme looks at the plaintiff’s total losses, determines the degree to which the plaintiff was responsible, and reduces the total award by that percentage. For example, if the total losses were $100,000 and the plaintiff was deemed 25% responsible, the total award will be reduced to $75,000.
Two different approaches to comparative negligence have evolved: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. With pure comparative negligence, an injured party will always receive something, unless deemed to be 100% responsible. With modified comparative negligence, if the plaintiff’s negligence exceeds a certain threshold (usually 50%), there will be no recovery. California is a pure comparative negligence state.