Often, an accident isn't fully one person's fault or another. When you have partial blame, it can have a large effect on the damages the court awards you. But how does the court establish how much blame one person has over the other when both have some fault? That is what contributory and comparative negligence is all about.
The Difference between the Two
How courts deal with partial blame varies from state to state. Each state uses either contributory or comparative negligence to figure it out. There are modified versions of the comparative negligence method that some states use as well.
Contributory negligence means that you acted negligently and so had a part in your own injury. The court will determine your percentage of negligence based on court findings. In some states, if you contributed in any way, you may not receive any damages at all (barred).
Sometimes, these types of ruling can seem monstrously unfair, especially when a plaintiff is barred completely from receiving damages. In some cases, your defense may still help you receive some kind of compensation, but that's not always possible. That's why there are few states still practicing pure contributory negligence. Most have moved on to comparative negligence methods.
States that practice pure contributory negligence include:
- North Carolina
- Washington D.C.
These are the only places left in the US with this system. Each of them have their own caveats in how they handle contributory negligence. Even if you know you have some partial blame, you should still speak to personal injury lawyer about the possibility of winning compensation.
In a comparative negligence system, your damages will reflect your percentage of negligence. Once again, through court findings, you will receive a percentage of blame. From that percentage, one of three things can happen, depending on your state.
Pure comparative negligence – You will receive damages, but the court will cut the full amount by the amount of fault assigned. For example, you bear 40% of the blame for your accident. The court finds your damages to total $50,000, but you can only receive $30,000 (50,000 - 40%).
Modified comparative negligence – States that use a modified comparative negligence system put a limit on how much fault you can have and still receive damages. In some states, if your percentage falls at 50% or more, then you will receive no damages. Anything below 50% and you receive the comparative damages. Some other states bump the number up to 51% percent. In these states, you can have a full half of the fault and still receive damages.
Knowing the System Helps you and Your Lawyer
Knowing what kind of negligence system your state uses is important for any personal injury case where you know you hold partial fault. It can play a large role in how much you can receive in damages if your case should go to trial.
Speak to a professional lawyer, like those at Spiegal And Barbato LLP, and if there's partial fault on your part, be honest. Your injury lawyer can work on a more realistic settlement if he or she knows that your blame will come to light if your case goes to trial.