When a car accident happens, the first question is usually “Whose fault is it?” One of the first things any personal injury attorney will tell you is to never admit fault after a car accident. Even though you’ll have to speak with the other motorists involved in the crash, a police officer, and your insurance adjuster, you shouldn’t take responsibility for the incident until all the facts are taken into account.
Always provide truthful information about the general facts: names, times, and location of the accident, and descriptions of motor vehicles. Never offer information you haven’t been asked about, and never assume that you’re the sole culprit for the accident. This is because even if you think you’re responsible for the event (say, you ran a red light or were texting at the time of the incident), you don’t have all the relevant facts to say with absolute certainty that you are the only person who’s at fault.
What is Comparative Negligence?
Most states follow a form of comparative negligence law. Comparative negligence is a legal term that means that the fault, or negligence, of each party involved in an accident is determined by their respective contributions. Even if you’re at fault in an accident, you can still recover damages. However, the degree of your responsibility is factored in.
Types of Comparative Negligence
States that follow comparative negligence, Florida for example, can follow one of three rules: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, or slight/gross negligence.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Florida follows the pure comparative negligence law. With pure comparative negligence, you can recover damages, minus the percentage of your responsibility. For example, let’s say you were in an accident and have $10,000 in damages, and were determined to be 25% at fault. You can recover the remaining damages after your percentage of responsibility is subtracted, so you could recover $7,500.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Modified comparative negligence follows the same responsibility percentage practice as pure comparative negligence, but there is a cap on the amount of responsibility allowed to recover damages. Modified comparative negligence does not allow you to recover damages if it is determined that you are 50% or more responsible for an accident. In comparison, pure comparative negligence allows you to recover damages regardless of your percentage of responsibility.
Slight/Gross Comparative Negligence
South Dakota is the only state to follow slight/gross comparative negligence law. Unlike pure comparative negligence, slight/gross only allows you to collect damages if your negligence was slight and the defendant’s was gross. As you would expect, this ruling can be troublesome as determining whether fault is slight or gross can be hard to quantify.
There are many components in car accidents. This is why witness accounts, surveillance footage, and accident reconstruction experts are often essential to determine liability. Generally, courts will consider the following:
- Driving over the speed limit
- Poor road conditions that could’ve been easily fixed
- One or more drivers failed to leave enough space between them and the car in front of them
- Mechanical failure in the car
- Issues with the car’s tires
- Whether seat belts were worn
- Driving under the influence
- Distracted drivers
Maybe one single circumstance is 100% responsible for the accident. But if two or more of these conditions came into play on the part of two or more drivers, each party will be apportioned their own level of culpability.
There are many ways to reconstruct the event. During the discovery process in a lawsuit, the parties will attempt to establish whether there were/was:
- Security cameras at the site of the accident
- Skid marks on the road
- Tire damage reflecting sudden braking
- Witnesses to the accident
- Medical evidence suggesting that the type of injuries sustained could have been caused by XYZ (e.g. a frontal collision, being rear-ended, traveling at high speeds)
- Roads in poor condition (e.g. could the Department of Transportation be held partially liable?)
- Vehicle mechanical issues (thus making either the car manufacturer or the car’s mechanic partially liable?)
The entire process is like putting together a puzzle. In order to get all the pieces right, you need an experienced car accident attorney to help you figure it out. Then, and only then, can it be determined whether you’re solely or partly responsible for the accident and reduce any damages based on your comparative fault.
Call Clark Law if you’ve been in a car accident in Tampa Bay
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation. At Clark Law, we have experienced attorneys who regularly represent clients who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, and we can help you determine the best next step.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.