It’s easy to think of fault in a car accident as being pretty straightforward. This is especially true in cases of reckless driving or distracted driving, where an accident is very directly caused by one driver’s actions. In truth, many accidents are much more complicated, and very often both drivers contribute to the accident to some degree.
This is where the concept of comparative negligence comes from. Comparative negligence helps determine fault, liability, and potential compensation for damages in cases where both drivers share some of the fault.
If you have been in an accident where comparative negligence was potentially involved, it is critical to understand the facts. The following guide can help you gain key insights about comparative negligence and learn how an attorney can help represent you to get the best possible outcome.
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.
This is why attorneys recommend never admitting fault in the aftermath of an accident. Instead, drivers should provide truthful information about the general facts, including names, times, location of the accident, and descriptions of motor vehicles. Drivers should never offer information they have not been asked about, and never assume they are the sole culprit for the accident. But no matter the situation, legal representation is extremely important to ensure all legal rights are recognized and protected.
Types of Comparative Negligence
Florida recognizes comparative negligence under statute 768.81. This statute states that follow comparative negligence 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 subtracting your percentage of responsibility, 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 negligence only allows you to collect damages if your negligence was slight and the defendant’s was gross. This ruling can be troublesome as determining whether fault is slight or gross can be hard to quantify.
Comparative Negligence Examples
An example of comparative negligence could be a driver, the defendant, running a red light and rear-ending another driver, the plaintiff. In this situation though, it was determined the plaintiff had moved into the defendant’s lane without using a turn signal just before he was hit.
Now let’s say the judge contributes 90% of the fault to the plaintiff and 10% to the defendant.
Under pure comparative negligence in Florida, the plaintiff would be eligible to recover 90% of the damages instead of the full amount. In modified comparative negligence, the plaintiff would also still be eligible for 90% since they were ruled as less than 50%. For slight/gross comparative negligence, this situation would likely still be ruled as slight comparative negligence and the plaintiff would still be eligible to collect damages.
Comparative Fault Considerations
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 by two or more drivers, each party can be apportioned their own level of fault.
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 any issues such as a frontal collision, being rear-ended, traveling at high speeds, or other causes
- Roads in poor condition that could cause the Department of Transportation to be held partially liable
- Vehicle mechanical issues that could cause either the car manufacturer or the car’s mechanic to be partially liable
The entire process is like putting together a puzzle. An experienced car accident attorney can do a lot to help find and arrange the pieces correctly. Attorneys play an essential role in investigating to determine which parties are 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.