Comparative Negligence

Recovering for Damages If You Were Partly At Fault

Few accidents happen for a single reason. Instead, most situations resulting in an accident have many moving parts from many contributing parties. If you are injured in an accident for which you are partly to blame you may want to know if you are barred from filing a claim for damages against other involved parties.

California follows a theory of pure comparative negligence, which allows injured accident victims to file a claim for damages even if they were partly to blame for the accident that caused their injury(ies). If you or someone you know has been injured in a California accident you should contact an experienced lawyer to learn about your legal rights.

Understanding Pure Comparative Negligence in California

Before we can understand the standard of pure comparative negligence we must have a basic understanding of what negligence is. Negligence is a basis for legal liability that is proved by showing:

  1. A defendant has a duty to others;
  2. A defendant breached this duty; and
  3. This breach caused the plaintiff to sustain an injury.

An injured plaintiff must also have suffered actual damages as a result of the injury. Actual damages are generally what a plaintiff seeks to recoup in a California personal injury lawsuit: costs incurred for medical expenses, prescriptions, rehabilitation, or to account for lost wages if a plaintiff missed work to recover.

In California, victims of an accident may seek to recover damages regardless of whether or not they played a role in causing the accident in question. Pure comparative negligence basically means that an injured plaintiff can seek to recover damages equal to the percentage of damages that are attributed to the defendant.

Here’s an example. Let’s say X is driving along the Pacific Coast Highway when Y runs through a traffic light at an intersection. X and Y collide. If X was abiding by all traffic laws and Y was entirely at fault, X would be permitted to seek 100% of the damages she sustained in the accident. If, however, it is later determined that X was speeding and/or texting at the time of the accident, the amount she would be able to recover through a lawsuit against Y would be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to her. Let’s say X was determined to be 15% at fault for the accident. If she sought damages in the amount of $100,000 for hospital bills and lost wages, her ability to recover from Y would be capped at $85,000.

Or, let’s say that X is visiting a restaurant in Los Angeles, slips on a wet floor, and is injured. If the restaurant had taken no precautions to dry the floor or warn guests of a possible hazard, and X was paying proper attention to her surroundings, she would probably be able to seek 100% of the damages she incurred to tend to her injuries.

If, however, X is involved in a heated phone conversation and drinking heavily, which causes her to ignore several “wet floor” signs posted around the hazardous area, her ability to recover may be significantly reduced. Her ability to recover could even be prohibited if it is determined that the restaurant exercised the proper degree of care in tending to the hazard and warning customers.

The theory of pure comparative negligence allows any injured victim to seek damages, so long as they were not entirely at-fault for an accident.

Damages in a California Personal Injury Lawsuit

After you suffer an injury in a Los Angeles accident you may suffer significant financial burdens. You may also wonder which costs and damages you may be able to recover through a claim for damages against an at-fault party. California permits injured accident victims to seek both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are those that are awarded for verifiable expenses related to an injury. These may include hospital bills, ambulance costs, prescription medication, follow-up visits with specialists, labs and bloodwork, lost wages, or funeral costs.

Non-economic damages are those that are awarded for intangible injuries that are more difficult to value. These may include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, diminished earning capacity, or mental anguish.

Regardless of the type of damages sought in a California personal injury lawsuit, an award will be limited if you are partly to blame for an accident. Pure comparative negligence is applied to all damages, regardless of classification.

Learn More About Your Legal Rights 

If you have been injured in an accident you should contact a personal injury lawyer, regardless of your level of culpability for the incident. Even if it determined that you are 99% at-fault for an accident, you are still legally entitled to seek damages from other involved parties.

One comment

My friend was in a car accident and they tried to lower his recovery by claiming he was mainly at fault. Fortunately, he had a good attorney and they were able to prove otherwise. Great article.