So What is Comparative Negligence, Anyway?
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When more than one person is at fault in an accident, Florida, along with only twelve other states, holds to a doctrine of comparative negligence, which apportions a party’s share of the damages according to each party’s share of the blame.
While some states hold that any shared blame results in no recovery at all and other states have a tiered system for apportioning blame, comparative negligence states require each party to take responsibility for their portion of the damages, whether that share is determined to be large or small.
Consider, for example, that you are driving the speed limit and trying to be cautious, but you glance occasionally at your cell phone. You come to a full stop at a four way stop, but a new text comes in as you pull into the intersection. Because you’re distracted, you don’t see another vehicle approaching at a high speed from the right. The other vehicle runs the stop sign and impacts the passenger side of your car, causing damage and injuries totaling $100,000. You hire an attorney, and she sues the other driver on your behalf and proves at trial the full amount of damages. If a jury determines that you were 1% to blame, and the other driver was 99% at fault, then that other driver (or his insurance) would be required to pay $99,000 of the damages. If the jury determines that you were 20% at fault, the other driver would have to pay $80,000, and so forth.
Understanding comparative negligence is important because, particularly in two-car auto accidents, it is not uncommon for both parties to have done something wrong. Therefore, when negotiating a pre-trial resolution to your case, you must gauge the likelihood that the jury could find that you contributed in some way to the damages – either before or after the accident – and take that into account in how you make and respond to settlement offers.
An experienced attorney is an important resource when evaluating the strength of your case and the likelihood that a jury might assign you some portion of fault. At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we are highly skilled in personal injury litigation, with a full understanding of what elements might factor into a jury’s decision and how juries decide comparative negligence. Contact us today for a free consultation.