California is a comparative fault state. If you file a personal injury claim, both your and the at-fault party’s actions will be considered when determining the award amount. If you are found to have contributed to the accident in any way, the compensation you receive will be decreased by the percentage of your responsibility.
The financial recovery you receive will be determined by a judge or jury after they have looked at the facts of the case and decided whether you had a role in causing the accident. Therefore, pursuing just compensation requires developing a legal strategy that clearly tells your side of the story and demonstrates how your injuries resulted purely from the at-fault party’s negligence.
California’s Comparative Fault Law
California operates under the doctrine of pure comparative fault. The legal theory allows plaintiffs in personal injury cases to recover damages even if they were partly to blame for the accident. This contrasts with the contributory negligence standard California used to follow, which states that a person is barred from receiving any compensation if they had even a minor role in an accident.
Under the pure comparative fault doctrine, an accident victim can file a claim for damages regardless of their level of fault. Whether the plaintiff was 20% or 80% responsible, the defendant may owe them compensation. This differs from modified comparative fault standards applied in other states, prohibiting a person from receiving an award if they were more than 50% responsible for the accident.
How Comparative Fault Works
Comparative fault works by determining the level of responsibility each party to an accident holds. To illustrate the concept, let’s look at a hypothetical auto collision.
Suppose a motorist purposely crosses through an intersection on a red light. You’re also going through the intersection, but your light is green. The other driver hits your vehicle, causing injuries. It’s decided that you should be awarded $50,000 in damages. The other driver (or their insurance company) owes you that total amount.
Let’s return to the scenario of crossing through the intersection. However, this time, you were speeding. It’s still decided that damages are $50,000. But because you were negligent (had you not been speeding, you may have been able to avoid the accident), you’re determined to be 20% at fault. Although you are still entitled to compensation, the amount is reduced by your percentage of responsibility. Therefore, you would receive only $40,000 ($50,000 - $10,000 [20% of $50,000]).
Determining Fault in an Accident Case
How does a judge or jury decide whether someone was at fault for an accident? Generally, they rely on the theory of negligence.
The theory holds that a person may be considered negligent if they act below the standard of care expected in a specific situation. The finder of fact may apply a reasonableness standard, which compares the at-fault party’s actions with those of a reasonable person using average care.
To demonstrate to the judge or jury that the other party owes you damages under the theory of negligence, you must:
- Establish that the other person had a duty of care. The specific duty of care depends on the relationship between you. For example, a driver is expected to ensure the safety of others by obeying all traffic laws.
- Show that the other person breached their duty of care. A breach occurs when someone acts below the standard. For instance, a reasonable person would not willfully run a red light.
- Demonstrate that their breach caused your accident. The other person may be responsible if a causal link exists between their actions and your accident. If the accident would have happened regardless of the other person’s conduct, they wouldn’t be considered the cause.
- Show that you suffered damages. You can recover compensation only if you sustained losses and expenses, such as medical bills.
At the same time, the other party will counter your claims by attempting to prove that they didn’t owe you a duty of care or weren’t negligent. Recognizing that they can minimize compensation by showing that you were partially at fault, they may also say that your negligence also contributed to the accident.
A personal injury attorney can help craft your legal strategy and present evidence to support your claims that you’re owed compensation. They can also work on challenging defenses raised by the other party.
Contact Our Firm Today
At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we know how important it is for accident victims to receive a just settlement for damages. We are ready to leverage our skills to help you.
Please call us at (800) 462-7160 or submit an online form to schedule a consultation with a member of our Los Angeles team.