When a person is injured and seeks compensation, it falls to the courts to decide whose fault the injury was. This can often be an extremely difficult task because, in most cases, it is not easy to pinpoint which party was responsible for what happened.
More Than One Party Can Be at Fault
Very often, it is found that both parties had a role to play in the accident. In many states, that means blame has to be split between them. The challenge that remains is how to allocate damages when both parties possess a portion of the fault. This is why there are laws like comparative negligence and contributory negligence.
Most people, especially those who have been in an accident, are surprised to learn that they could also be held liable for any role they had to play in causing the accident that injured them, even if that role was minor.
For example, one of the most common accidents is a rear-end collision. In this situation, one driver does not stop quickly enough and hits the driver in front of them. It would be easy to place the blame on the driver who crashed into the vehicle. However, during the course of the investigation, if it is uncovered that be driver of the lead vehicle stepped on the brakes unnecessarily and inappropriately, then he or she may be partially at fault. Each driver would be assigned a percentage of fault.
These rules vary by state. Read on for a breakdown of how the various states treat contributory negligence.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Only four states follow the contributory negligence rule. Under pure contributory negligence, any fault assigned to the injured party bars him or her from collecting damages. In other words, injured parties cannot collect damages if they are even 1 percent to blame.
The four states that follow pure contributory negligence are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.
In a pure contributory negligence state, it becomes critically important for your attorney to prove you did not cause the crash.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Roughly a third of the states follow the comparative negligence rule, including New York. Under the pure comparative fault rule, the injured party is allowed to collect damages, even if it is found that they were 99 percent to blame for the accident. The amount of damage that can be collected is limited to the percentage of blame assigned to the other party.
If a driver runs a red light, for example, and gets T-boned, he or she may be found to be 95 percent responsible for the accident but will still be able to collect the minimal damages for the 5 percent responsibility the other driver held.
Modified Comparative Fault
Most states follow this rule. There are two distinct versions of modified comparative fault: the 50 percent rule and the 51 percent rule. In some states, if the driver is found to be 50 percent responsible for the accident, he or she is barred from collecting damages. In other states, drivers must be 51 percent responsible to be barred from collecting damages.
If you are confused about which rule your state follows, it is best to speak with an accident or injury attorney regarding the specifics of your jurisdiction.