Determining fault is the primary method of deciding who is liable to cover the costs of any damages that result from a car accident. However, things are frequently not so simple and straightforward, and it’s often the case that both parties will be at least partially at fault for an accident. Should this be the case, being partially at fault for a car accident will usually affect your ability to receive full compensation for any damages and it could potentially disqualify you from receiving compensation entirely.
Comparative Fault vs. Contributory Fault
Each state has its own laws regarding traffic accidents, which means where the crash occurred will directly determine how the courts view fault when allocating damages. Many states work under the principle of comparative fault, also known as comparative negligence. Under this rule, the judge or jury basically determines the specific level of fault that lies with each party and then uses this to allocate the damages proportionally.
For instance, the court might determine that the accident was 20 percent your fault and 80 percent the fault of the other driver. In this case, the other driver would be responsible for paying 80 percent of the total cost of the damage to your vehicle. Crucially though, the fact that the court determined that the accident was 20 percent your fault means you will also be forced to pay for 20 percent of the damages to the other vehicle.
Although the majority of states use either a pure or modified form of comparative fault when allocating damages, there are still a number of places that operate under the principle of contributory negligence. In Washington D.C., Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, the contributory negligence principle means that you are not entitled to any compensation if the court determines you were at all at fault for the accident. Under contributory negligence laws, a victim is not entitled to collect any compensation or damages if the accident was even 1 percent their own fault. This obviously has devastating effects on a victim’s ability to seek compensation, which is why the majority of states have abandoned this law in favor of comparative fault.
How is Comparative Fault Determined?
Depending on where the accident occurred, the state might allocate damages under the principle of pure comparative fault or modified comparative fault. Under the principle of pure comparative fault, both drivers are liable to pay for their share of the other’s damages in proportion to their fault for the accident. This works exactly as described in the example above where the driver received 80 percent of their own damages and had to pay 20 percent of the other driver’s damages.
New York is one state that follows the principle of pure comparative fault, and this can have both positive and negative effects when seeking compensation following a car accident. On one hand, it ensures that you will be entitled to damages even if the other person was only partially at fault. However, it also means that the other person’s attorney will likely do whatever they can to convince the judge or jury that the accident was your fault. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure you hire an experienced personal injury attorney to help defend your interests.
Still, only 13 states use pure comparative fault when allocating damages, whereas 33 states currently use some form of modified comparative fault. Under modified comparative fault, the state sets a fault threshold, which essentially means that only the person who was at less fault for the accident receives compensation. Some states operate under a 50 percent bar while others set the bar at 51 percent.
In states that use the 50 percent rule, a person cannot receive compensation if the court determines that they were 50 percent or more at fault for the accident. On the other hand, states that use the 51 percent rule allow a person to receive compensation if the court determines that the accident was 50 percent their fault or less. While one percent may not sound like much, it actually makes a huge difference. In states that use the 51 percent bar, both parties are entitled to 50 percent of the damages if the court determines they were equally at fault. However, in states that use the other rule, neither party is entitled to damages if they are both at equal fault.
The fact that determining fault can be such a complicated issue means it is essential that you speak with a professional personal injury attorney immediately following the accident. Any statements you make to the other driver’s insurance company or lawyer could potentially harm your case. By speaking immediately to an attorney, you’ll be able to get advice on how best to proceed without risking your chances of receiving a settlement.