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Understanding Comparative Fault

Published on Jun 30, 2016 at 12:47 pm in Auto Accident.

Car accident lawyers are often asked, “What does comparative fault mean?” To answer generally, comparative fault is partial legal defense that can limit the amount of recoverable damages a plaintiff can seek in a claim, based on the degree to which the plaintiff’s acted negligently, contributing to cause the injury.

For example, when an auto accident occurs, in order to determine who is responsible for paying the resulting property and personal injury damages, it must be established which driver is at fault. But as almost any auto accident lawyer may tell you, sometimes it’s not that simple to determine the at-fault party. Often, it’s not one or the other driver; it can be both. (Or, several drivers may be at fault, depending on the circumstances of the accident.)

In a two-car accident, though both drivers may have some degree of responsibility for the auto accident, comparative fault is a term used to determine to what extent each party is at fault. A percentage is used to assign the amount of responsibility. For example, it may be determined that the plaintiff was 40% at fault, and the other driver was 60% at fault. Therefore, the comparative fault of the plaintiff is 40%.

How is comparative fault determined?

In a court of law, an auto accident lawyer may tell the judge and jury that her client was 40% at fault because her client backed his car up and hit a parked vehicle, but the other car owner was 60% at fault because he parked in a no-parking zone, directly behind the vehicle, on a dark night so it was nearly impossible to see or avoid. Ultimately, however, it may be up to the jury to decide the comparative fault of each driver based on testimony from both sides.

An experienced DC auto accident lawyer may perform his or her own investigation into the accident to determine to what extent the other driver or drivers is responsible compared to their client. The opposing counsel may also investigate the accident which is why it’s important to document the events and details immediately following an accident. That information can be introduced into court to help assess how much the other driver was responsible for the accident.

Can both drivers file a claim?

Both drivers can file a claim, but the dollar amount of their settlements will be based on the percentage that the accident was their responsibility. So for example, if the damage total for the plaintiff was $10,000 and a jury found that he was 40% at fault, he would be entitled to up to $6,000, depending on the amount of the total available compensation.

In some areas, additional laws and rules apply to comparative fault determinations. Contact an experienced auto accident lawyer to discuss the details of your case and to determine if comparative fault applies in your car accident.

Thanks to our friends and co-contributors at Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into comparative fault.