Understanding Comparative Negligence

Trying to learn all the laws about personal injury cases is an overwhelming task, which is why most people rely on an experienced attorney. One bar rule covers what is known as comparative negligence, which, as implied, focuses on negligence. In particular, it helps determine both the damages and responsibilities of every party involved in an accident.

For instance, if a driver failed to yield to oncoming traffic at a stoplight, causing a car accident, this law considers the driver’s own negligence, as well as the negligence of any other parties involved.

There is another bar rule known as contributory negligence. While similar to comparative negligence, there is one significant difference. With comparative negligence, the goal is to get compensation for the injured party for at least a portion of his or her injuries. However, with the contributory option, an attorney seeks to have the injured party receive a full damage reward.

The difference between the two has to do with the degree of fault placed on the various parties, something a jury finds during deliberation. As to the amount of damages awarded, much of this has to do with the seriousness of the party’s own injuries, their own negligence, and the state in which the car accident occurred.

Different Forms of the Negligence Rule

When determining a plaintiff’s damages in connection with a car accident of some kind, an attorney with in-depth knowledge of the comparative fault rule will determine the correct direction to take.

Pure Contributory Negligence

In the states that recognize the Pure Contributory Negligence Law, the court will not pay injured parties any damages if they are even one percent at fault. Currently, this law is only applicable in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.

This law is tough on people who live in the five states that follow this law as opposed to the Comparative Negligence States. Plainly put, if someone is in an accident and even just the slightest bit responsible, there is no way for them to receive compensation to help with lost income, replacing the totaled vehicle, medical expenses, and even pain and suffering. As imagined, this would have devastating effects not only to the party involved in the accident but also to family members.

Pure Comparative Fault

For states that recognize this law, parties can collect damages even when they are 99 percent at fault. There is one important caveat, however. The amount an individual can collect depends on his or her degree of fault.

A prime example would be a drunk driver who caused an accident and was ultimately blamed for the majority of damages and injuries. Even so, that person decides to file a personal injury claim because the car in front did not use a proper signal when turning left. Under the Pure Comparative Fault law, there is a chance the drunk driver could collect some money — but only a nominal amount. Today, several states follow this law, including Florida, New York, and California.

Modified Comparative Fault

This part of the law also affects people who suffer damages and injuries as a result of an accident, which most states follow as a default ruling. In other words, for states that did not recognize the other two options, they would have some sort of modified law in place.

Depending on the state, some follow a fifty percent bar rule. Others follow a fifty-one percent rule. For instance, both Colorado and Utah adhere to the fifty percent rule, while Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota go with fifty-one percent. Either way, this means if an at-fault party is fifty or fifty-one percent responsible for an accident according to the state’s law, the court will not award him or her any damages.

Sharing the Blame

If someone is involved in a personal injury accident, whether a car crash, vehicle/motorcycle accident, or a pedestrian hit while crossing the street, they will bear some degree of fault. Based on the circumstances, that could be one percent or ninety-nine percent. Regardless, that will play a significant role in whether the court awards them any compensation. The state in which someone files a case also will affect the outcome.

Increasing the Odds in a Lawsuit

If someone lives in a state that follows the Pure Comparative Fault law, they have a better chance of receiving compensation than they would living in a Pure Contributory Negligence state. The challenge: Someone cannot do anything about that other than to move, which probably is not an option.

Therefore, plaintiffs need to consider other ways to boost their odds of winning a lawsuit. Consider the helpful tips listed below.

Do Not Admit to Anything

When involved in an accident of any kind, never admit to being at fault. Of course, everyone needs to answer questions posed by the police who show up on the scene. However, never say things like, “I am at fault,” “It was my fault,” “I did this,” and so on. The goal is to remain as neutral as possible until one can speak with an attorney.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Some automobile accidents result in catastrophic injuries and death. However, one must get checked out right away even if the injury is minor. Although one can make an appointment with a primary caregiver, it is better to head to the emergency room. Not only will this have a greater impact on the case, but more importantly, medical professionals can identify injuries that are not quickly identified. It is always better to be cautious.

If someone delays treatment following an incident, they risk the at-fault party’s insurance carrier using that against them to deny any claims. Also, the defendant’s attorney could include the fact that they did not seek immediate care as part of the defense.

Gather and Maintain Pertinent Information and Documentation

Anyone who is involved in an accident, regardless of the level of fault, should gather and hold onto as much information and documentation as possible. Some examples include police reports, medical bills, letters from insurance companies, and diagnostic reports from auto repair companies.

The injured party also needs the names and insurance information for all other parties involved. If for some reason, an individual does not want to provide what is needed, write down or use a phone to take a photo of his or her vehicle, including license plates. Also, snap a photo of the other parties.

When the time is right, the plaintiff will turn everything over to a lawyer. For a lawsuit, all of this would come into play as evidence of any injuries and/or damages.

Hire an Attorney

Most importantly, the injured person should hire an attorney with experience and expertise in the personal injury arena. By doing so, that professional will have extensive knowledge of comparative negligence so that they can guide them accordingly.

Insurance companies are a necessity of life, and they offer incredible services. However, they sometimes work against an injured person. Following a car accident, one can anticipate receiving multiple calls from the at-fault party’s insurance company. A representative will push to settle out of court. While quickly receiving money might sound sufficient, it may be disadvantageous.

True story: One woman was in an accident caused by another party. An ambulance took her to the hospital for a broken leg. She made the mistake of accepting a $2,500 check for compensation for her pain and suffering on top of the insurer paying her medical expenses. This all took place within two weeks after the incident.

The problem is that three months after the accident, this woman began experiencing excruciating pain in her back, neck, and shoulder. After seeing different medical specialists, she found out she had permanent nerve damage connected to the crash. Fortunately, she had proper medical insurance that covered the nearly $1 million in surgery and treatments required over the next several years. Because she settled with the at-fault driver’s insurance company instead of hiring an attorney, all of the expenses fell back on her.

Most lawyers who work with comparative negligence cases do an excellent job of getting monetary compensation for their clients. Unfortunately, some fall short of expectations. Plaintiffs want a legal professional with tons of experience in their corner. That increases the odds that the jury finds in their favor for the amount of damages sought.

Regardless of the state in which the accident occurred, whether it is Iowa, New Jersey, South Dakota, or somewhere else, a lawyer will value the plaintiff’s claim to the fullest amount possible. In comparison, by working directly with the defendant’s insurance provider, the injured party will never receive what is rightfully theirs. Along with physical injuries, a lawyer can fight for emotional damages.

Become Educated

Yes, hiring the right attorney is essential. However, it never hurts to broaden one’s information base. A lawyer will do most of the work on the case. Even so, gaining insight into both comparative and contributory negligence has benefits.

First, this can help with a search for an attorney who has the right qualifications. Second, this knowledge will make the trial process easier to understand and go through. Third, the plaintiff will have more control or at least feel they do, whether the accident is due to their own negligence or that of another party.


No one ever thinks they will be in an accident. However, this is something that happens thousands of times every day around the country. When in this situation, start by taking the appropriate steps to protect any future reward through the court system. At the top of the list, select an attorney with experience, knowledge, and compassion for the clients that he or she serves.