What does comparative negligence mean when determining who is liable for a traffic accident in California?
Many people who are injured in an automobile accident are not aware of how the legal process will unfold after filing a claim. Injured parties who have claims against negligent drivers usually just contact the respondent insurance company when personal injuries are minimal and it is clear who was responsible for the wreck. However, there are also many accident situations that are more complicated, especially when the claim will involve more than one negligent party. These cases usually come down to close evaluation of what actually transpired in the crash along with what each driver may or may not have done immediately prior to or during the impact. When several people are injured and all are attempting to recover equitable damages, the question becomes whether or not the claimant was responsible for at least a portion of their own injuries. Serious accidents are not always caused by one specific driver unless the crash was intentional or a vehicle part malfunctions, which is more common than many accident victims realize. What this means is that all parties to an accident will usually have insurance companies investigating the case for their own protection, with most of those insurance companies addressing the personal comparative negligence of the injured claimants.
Comparative Negligence Laws
Comparative negligence is the legal doctrine that all parties to a crash could be at fault for causing the wreck to a certain degree, with that level being evaluated and assigned a comparative negligence percentage. These percentage assignments can be very significant when damages are being filed and calculated. Four states along with the District of Columbia use pure contributory negligence doctrine, which holds that an accident victim cannot collect any damages if they are even 1% liable for causing the accident that resulted in the injury. Several other states use modified comparative fault law, which sets the bar for being denied any claim damages at 50-51% depending on the state. California is one of the states that actually uses pure comparative fault law, which allows anyone injured in an accident for which they are not completely at fault to receive some amount of financial compensatory damages.
Determining Comparative Negligence Percentages
The process of assigning comparative fault percentages is by no means an exact science. Courts normally accept the determination of the accident reconstruction specialist on the official collision report, but this can be a serious negotiating point in unraveling an and accident. Insurance claims adjusters pay very close attention to these numbers because they will be used to discount any settlement payouts. Assignments are usually set in blocks of ten percentage points, with many times an accident involving two parties being assessed at 50% for each driver. However, when several vehicles collide, each driver must be evaluated for their driving behavior at the time of the wreck, which can be greatly impacted by certain factors that indicate distracted driving. Many times when a crash occurs due to equipment failure or malfunction the parts manufacturer may also be included in the overall determination of comparative fault. This can be a significant consideration for all parties involved in a case negotiation because it can easily lessen the comparative fault of each injured party, which in turn will enhance the value of their claims when total damages are discounted. In addition, drivers who were cited for any reason could also be assigned a higher percentage attributed to the illegal behavior, especially in accident claims involving a drunk driver or excessive speeding when someone is seriously or fatally injured. Material case factors make a big difference in arriving at an accurate percentage of fault for any included driver.
How Comparative Negligence Affects Your Claim
After a percentage of fault is determined by the court, your accident attorney will have a better idea of the true value of an injury claim. When product liability claims are a possibility the value can be increased even more when your attorney is successful in proving the injury is a result of parts malfunctioning. Product liability claims are usually separate legal actions and the manufacturers are held to strict liability, which means that the plaintiff legal representative need not prove negligence on the part of the manufacturer. Negligence is inherent when the product is purchased and malfunctions in use. Product manufacturers are regularly found completely at fault for all injuries, and often have an established process for filing a claim. These claims are often paid at full value of total compensatory damages or in a set amount for each injured customer.