In a personal injury case, it is critical to determine the cause of the injury. Determining causation is essential because a court must determine who is at fault to award damages to the injured party. Sometimes, one person is clearly at fault for the accident. However, there are instances when more than one person (including the person injured) is at fault or when more than one person contributed to the injury.
For example, Alice is stopped at a traffic light. While she is waiting at the light, she decides to send a text message to her mom about dinner. Alice and her mom start texting back and forth about where to eat and what time.
During her text conversation with her mom, Alice is distracted and does not see that the traffic light has changed to green. Bob is approaching the same traffic light. Unfortunately, Bob only saw the green light and not Alice’s stationary vehicle, resulting in Bob rear-ending Alice.
This is known as contributory fault or negligence (in this context, fault and negligence are used interchangeably). It is important to understand the different types of contributory fault and which one applies because it may affect your ability to recover compensation.
What Are The Different Types of Contributory and Comparative Fault Systems?
Every state has some type of law to handle contributory fault situations. These laws guide the state courts on dividing fault among the multiple parties that may have some liability.
Essentially, contributory fault laws provide instruction on whether someone involved in an accident is able to recover compensation for their injuries and how much the injured person can recover from other parties.
Typically, these contributory fault laws fall within one of the following three categories:
- Pure contributory negligence/fault;
- Pure comparative negligence/fault; and,
- Modified comparative negligence.
Florida is currently a pure comparative fault system, but it used to follow a pure contributory negligence/fault system. It is important to understand the three types of negligence/fault laws, the similarities/differences, and how they apply.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Under the pure contributory negligence rules, the party injured in an accident cannot seek to recover monetary damages if they share any liability for the accident. Even if the party injured in an accident shares just 1% of the fault for the accident, they cannot recover any monetary damages from the other parties.
The majority of states no longer follow pure contributory fault rules. The only states that still follow pure contributory fault rules are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia (and Washington, D.C.).
Pure Comparative Fault
Most states have adopted the pure comparative fault rules. Under the pure comparative negligence/fault rules, the person injured in an accident is not prevented from seeking monetary damages from the other party if they share some of the responsibility for the accident or their own injuries.
Instead, under the pure comparative negligence rules, a court will adjust the damages award based on the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff (injured party).
To explain how the pure comparative negligence/fault rules work, let’s use the earlier example involving Alice and Bob’s accident. Both Alice and Bob share some fault for the accident: Alice was more focused on her phone than on the green light, and Bob was more focused on the green light than on Alice’s car.
Let’s now say that Alice sues Bob for $100,000 in injuries and damages she suffered from the accident. After both Alice and Bob present their cases, the jury finds that Alice is 25% at fault for the accident and Bob is 75% at fault. This means that Alice will receive $75,000, or the $100,000 she was seeking in damages minus $25,000 for her 25% contribution of fault.
States that use comparative negligence/fault rules include Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Modified comparative fault mixes contributory fault and pure comparative fault rules. Under the modified comparative fault rules, the party injured in the accident is not automatically prohibited from recovering monetary damages if they share some of the liability for the accident. However, in some states, the injured party’s recovery may be prevented completely if they are 50% or 51% or more at fault for the accident.
Twelve states use the modified comparative negligence/fault rules with a 50% prohibition on recovering monetary damages, including Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
Twenty-one states use the modified comparative negligence/fault rules with a 51% prohibition on the recovery of monetary damages, including Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Hiring an Attorney is Crucial When You’re Being Blamed for an Accident
Contributory fault can significantly reduce your chance of receiving maximum compensation in a personal injury case. That’s why it’s critical to hire a personal injury attorney when contributory fault might be an issue. If you’re unsure of whether the concept applies to your case, feel free to reach out for a free consultation.