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Comparative Negligence: What You Need to Know

01/19/2024 Written by: Tara Crisp-Schwartz

Comparative negligence is a legal principle used in personal injury cases to allocate fault and determine the extent of liability among the parties involved. This principle is applied when more than one party is responsible for causing an injury or damage. The idea behind comparative negligence is to apportion the responsibility for the harm based on the degree of fault of each party.

There are two main types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence.

Pure Comparative Negligence

  • In jurisdictions that follow pure comparative negligence, a plaintiff (injured party) can recover damages even if they were mostly at fault for the accident.
  • The damages awarded to the plaintiff are reduced by the percentage of their own fault. For example, if the plaintiff is found 30% at fault, their damages will be reduced by 30%.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Many jurisdictions have adopted a modified version of comparative negligence, which includes a threshold beyond which the plaintiff cannot recover damages. Two subtypes of modified comparative negligence are the 50% rule and the 51% rule.

  • 50% Rule: The plaintiff cannot recover damages if their fault is equal to or greater than that of the defendant(s). If the plaintiff is 49% at fault, they can still recover damages, but the award is reduced by their percentage of fault.
  • 51% Rule: Similar to the 50% rule, but the plaintiff cannot recover damages if their fault is 51% or more.

Example of Comparative Negligence

Suppose there is a car accident, and the court determines that the plaintiff's total damages amount to $100,000. If the plaintiff is found 20% at fault under a pure comparative negligence system, they would be entitled to receive $80,000 ($100,000 - 20% of $100,000). In a modified comparative negligence jurisdiction with the 50% rule, if the plaintiff is found 51% at fault, they would receive no damages.

Comparative negligence is a flexible legal concept that recognizes that multiple parties may contribute to an accident and aims to distribute liability fairly based on the facts of the case. The specific rules and application of comparative negligence can vary by jurisdiction, so it's important to consult the laws of the relevant jurisdiction for accurate information.

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