Partly at Fault in a Car Accident? Here’s What to Expect covers what to expect when you were involved in an accident in which you share some of the blame. Learn more about how the degree to which you are found at fault and your state of residence impact your opportunity for recovery.

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Partly at Fault in a Car Accident? Here’s What to Expect

If you find yourself in a car accident and are partially at fault, you may be anxious about what happens next. This article looks at the types of contributory fault found around the country and the options to minimize its effect on your right to a settlement or verdict when injured in an auto accident.

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Key Takeaways

  • State laws limit the ability of a person injured in a car crash who is partly at fault to recover compensation from another driver.
  • Defendants in car accident cases must prove the degree of fault of the accident victim.
  • Accident victims can take steps to limit the effect of their fault on their personal injury claim.

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What Does It Mean To Be Partly At Fault In An Accident?

Liability for the harm caused in a car wreck is based on negligence. When a person fails to exercise reasonable care in operating a motor vehicle, the law holds them responsible for the personal injuries and property damage caused in a collision. It’s not uncommon to have more than one at-fault driver to hold responsible for paying damages to accident victims.

If a car accident victim is partly at fault in causing a car accident, state law controls whether the victim may recover damages and how much may be recovered. At one time, most state laws followed a contributory negligence rule that prevented an accident victim who was as little as 1% at fault in causing an accident from receiving compensation. 

The other motorist could be 99% at fault, but the law prevented the injured party from recovering damages for broken bones, lacerations, and other common injuries suffered in a car wreck.

Legislators nationwide eventually responded to the unfairness of contributory negligence by changing their laws to comparative negligence. Today, only the District of Columbia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia have traditional contributory negligence laws.

Comparative negligence offers an alternative to the harshness of contributory negligence. Comparative negligence lets an at-fault accident victim recover damages, but the law reduces the amount awarded by the victim’s degree of fault.

Understanding Contributory Negligence

Suppose someone is injured in an accident in one of the four states or Districts of Columbia with contributory negligence laws. In that case, in contributory negligence laws, the other driver’s insurance company investigates the accident with attention to finding evidence to prove the injured party was at least partially at fault. 

The reason is simple: Any evidence of fault by injured parties prevents them from prevailing in a car accident lawsuit.

An at-fault driver’s insurance company may elect to discuss a personal injury settlement with a car accident lawyer despite evidence of the victim’s partial fault. Insurance adjusters do this because they understand there is always a risk of a jury not being persuaded by the evidence of contributory negligence by the accident victim. 

However, a car accident settlement offered by an insurance company will likely be substantially less than might be offered in a case with similar accident injuries but without evidence of contributory negligence.

A good way to better understand how contributory negligence works is with a common car-accident scenario of a truck driver making a left turn into the path of an oncoming car. The vehicles collide, and the driver of the car suffers multiple injuries.

Assume for the sake of this example that evidence gathered during an accident investigation shows that the truck driver misjudged the speed of the approaching car and turned into its path. 

A police report contains a statement from the driver of the car admitting to reading a text message and not seeing the truck making the turn until it was too late to avoid the collision.

The truck driver owed a duty of care to obey the traffic laws, including those requiring turning vehicles to yield to oncoming traffic. However, the car’s injured driver was also negligent for not paying attention to road and traffic conditions. 

In a state with contributory negligence laws, a defense lawyer for the truck driver could use the partial fault of the injured motorist as a defense against the claim for damages.

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Understanding Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence laws use the degree of fault of each party in a personal injury lawsuit to determine the damages, if any, awarded to a car accident victim. Two types of comparative fault exist:

  • Pure comparative negligence: The damages awarded to an injured party in a personal injury lawsuit are reduced by the degree of fault they have in causing the accident. For example, an injured person who is 1% at fault for causing a crash may recover damages against another motorist who is 99% at fault. The court or jury decides on the total damages in the case, but the amount awarded to the injured party is reduced by 1%. 
  • Modified comparative negligence: States with modified comparative negligence laws establish a maximum degree of fault that a car accident claimant cannot exceed to be compensated. Some states adopted the 50% rule that prevents awards of damages to injured parties found to be 50% or more at fault. States with a 51% rule allow car accident victims to recover damages if their degree of fault is lower than 51%.

An injured party whose degree of fault exceeds the 50% or 51% threshold in effect in the state where the accident occurred cannot be awarded damages. Plaintiffs that do not exceed the threshold may recover damages, but their degree of fault reduces the amount they receive, possibly affecting a plaintiff’s ability to obtain pre-settlement funding pending a settlement.

Factors That Determine Fault In A Car Accident

The plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is said to have the “burden of proof.” That means the injured party must present evidence to prove the defendant, the party at fault, breached its duty of care to the plaintiff and others using the public roads by failing to obey traffic laws and maintain control of the vehicle at all times. Plaintiffs also must prove damages.

Types of evidence personal injury attorneys use to prove fault and damages in a case include:

  • Medical records and medical bills to prove injuries and medical expenses.
  • Police reports contain names of the drivers and passengers and information about the crash’s cause.
  • Photographs of the accident scene, including vehicle damage.
  • Witness statements from people at the scene who may have seen how the accident occurred.
  • Work and employment records to prove lost wages.

The defendant in a personal injury lawsuit has the burden of proving defenses to defeat or weaken the injured party’s claim for compensation. A defense attorney needs evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence that caused or contributed to causing the crash to meet the defendant’s burden of proof.

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What To Do If You’re Partly At Fault For A Car Accident

Protecting your right to recover damages for the harm caused to you in a car accident begins immediately at the accident scene. Steps to take after a car crash include:

  • Remain in your car and check yourself for injuries.
  • Call 911 to report the accident to the police and request emergency medical assistance.
  • Do not discuss the accident or your injuries with anyone other than the police and paramedics.
  • Do not apologize or admit fault to anyone.
  • Take photographs of the accident scene or ask someone to take them.

Documenting your injuries with a medical examination is essential, so make an appointment to be examined by a doctor immediately after leaving the accident scene if you are not transported to a hospital emergency department by ambulance directly from the scene.

Arrange for a free consultation and case evaluation by contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. The attorney will help you to report the car accident to your insurance company.

If you are contacted by investigators, insurance adjusters, or anyone else claiming to be from an insurance company, do not discuss the accident or your injuries with them. Instead, contact your car accident attorney. Anything you say about the accident can be used by the driver’s insurance company and its defense lawyer to weaken your claim and reduce the amount of compensation that you are offered in settlement.

Partial fault in an auto accident does not mean you cannot recover compensation for your injuries and property damage. Let a car accident attorney evaluate your case to determine the rights and legal options that you have available to you.

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