What happens if you are partially at fault for an accident depends on the state where you live. In some states, even 1% of the fault will prevent you from receiving any compensation. In some other states, you could pursue a claim for your losses, but that state’s laws would reduce your compensation in proportion to your percentage of the fault.
In still other states, you could get less compensation from the at-fault party if your portion of the fault was less than 50% or 51% of total negligence. The legal terms for these three situations are contributory fault, pure comparative fault, and modified comparative fault.
Initially, states used the contributory negligence concept to determine what to do if a person who suffered an injury was partly at fault for an accident. Under contributory negligence, according to the Legal Information Institute (LII), a person could not profit from an accident they caused, even if their portion of the carelessness was smaller when compared to the other party’s.
A person who was only 10% or even 1% at fault could receive no compensation for their injuries and other losses from the party whose negligence was 90% or even 99% at fault in causing the accident. Eventually, lawmakers changed this law because it created unfair outcomes. Today, only a handful of states use contributory negligence.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Pure comparative negligence is a more modern concept than contributory negligence. Comparative negligence aims to achieve a less severe result than one would get with contributory negligence. An injured individual could seek compensation for damages in a state that uses comparative negligence.
Here is how to calculate the damages a plaintiff would receive if they were partly at fault in a state that uses pure comparative fault:
- The court would arrive at the total amount of the injured person’s losses.
- The court would determine how much negligence it should attribute to the plaintiff and how much to assign to the defendant.
- It would multiply the total award by the percentage of that individual’s negligence and deduct that amount from the total award.
- The result is the amount of compensation for the plaintiff under a pure comparative negligence approach.
Let’s walk through an example. The injured person had losses of $100,000. They were 10% at fault, and the defendant was 90% at fault. The court would multiply $100,000 by 10%, representing the portion of the plaintiff’s fault. The result would be $90,000, which is how much compensation the injured person could pursue from the at-fault party.
Modified Comparative Negligence
There is one simple difference between pure comparative fault and modified comparative fault.
- With pure comparative fault, there is no limit to how negligent the injured person can be and still recover some compensation from the other at-fault party if the injured party was not 100% at fault. Their damages would be reduced by the amount of their fault, which at 99% would only leave them 1% of the initial award.
- With modified comparative fault, there is a cut-off on the maximum total negligence a person could have and still receive some compensation. Some states set the cut-off at 50%, and others use 51% as the point at which the person no longer qualifies for compensation.
Here are two examples of modified comparative negligence in a state that uses a cut-off of 50% of the total negligence.
- The plaintiff had damages of $100,000 and was 20% at fault. Their negligence would reduce their award by $20,000, leaving them with $80,000 of compensation for their losses.
- The plaintiff had damages of $100,000 but was 60% at fault, exceeding the cut-off under modified comparative negligence, so the plaintiff will be barred from seeking compensation from the other party. In a pure comparative negligence state, however, this plaintiff could receive $40,000 after their $100,000 in damages got reduced by $60,000 for their portion of the total fault.
An Attorney Can Help You Understand What Happens If You Are Partially At Fault for the Accident
As you can see, your state’s decision to use contributory, pure comparative, or modified comparative fault could make or break your claim for compensation from the other at-fault party. In one state, according to LII, you could recover the amount of your losses minus the amount attributable to your negligence, while in a different state, you could receive nothing.
Contributory and comparative fault can be tricky and confusing. You might want to work with a lawyer on your injury claim to protect your right to compensation for your losses. Your lawyers can do the talking for you so that you avoid saying something that could harm your case. You should not admit fault unless your lawyers advise you to do so under their guidance. The personal injury attorneys at Greenberg Gross will gladly talk to you about your injury claim.