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Can I Claim Personal Injury If I Was at Fault?

Posted On 04/26/19

Personal injury lawsuits allow injured people to secure compensation for their losses caused by the negligence of other parties. The first step in securing a recovery from a personal injury is identifying the party or parties liable for causing the damages in the claim. Some plaintiffs may find they bear some measure of liability for their own damages, and it is essential to understand state negligence laws before pursuing a wrongful death claim.

Determining Liability for a Personal Injury

When an individual suffers a physical injury or illness or incurs economic losses due to the negligence of another party, the injured party likely has grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, different negligence laws exist in the U.S. and these laws may change from state to state. Most states uphold comparative negligence laws that effectively allows the court to adjust a plaintiff’s claim value if the plaintiff bears partial responsibility for a personal injury, and a few states do not allow any recovery for partially liable plaintiffs.

The first step in determining liability is for the plaintiff to determine whether another party owed a duty of care and breached that duty, causing the plaintiff’s damages. For example, a driver has a duty of care to follow the traffic laws and drive safely. Speeding through a red light would be a clear violation of this duty of care. If doing so caused an accident, the speeding driver would be guilty of negligence and will likely absorb liability for the accident. To learn more about your legal options after a car accident in Arizona, speak with our Phoenix car accident attorneys.

Comparative Negligence

Once a plaintiff determines liability, he or she must refer to his or her state’s laws concerning negligence and personal injuries. If the plaintiff bears any measure of fault, it will likely come up during the case and will influence the plaintiff’s recovery. States that follow comparative negligence laws use either pure or modified standards. In a state with a pure comparative negligence law like California, a plaintiff may secure compensation even if he or she was 99% at fault for a claimed event. The plaintiff loses a portion of the case award equal to his or her fault percentage, likely resulting in much less recovery than the plaintiff originally anticipated.

Most states follow modified comparative negligence laws. These laws allow plaintiffs to recover partial compensation if they bear liability for their claimed damages, but only so long as a plaintiff’s fault does not exceed a defendant’s. For example, if a case investigation determines a plaintiff is 30% at fault for a $100,000 claim, the plaintiff loses 30% of the case value to reflect his or her comparative negligence. If the plaintiff’s fault is 50% or more, the plaintiff may not recover compensation.

Contributory Negligence

Only a handful of states still use contributory negligence laws because most lawmakers agree these statutes present somewhat unfair limitations to plaintiffs who may have been very slightly negligent and very marginally contributed to their claimed damages. Under contributory negligence laws, any measure of negligence on the plaintiff’s part is an affirmative defense for the defendant. Even 1% fault bars the plaintiff from recovery. A potential personal injury claim plaintiff in a state with contributory negligence laws must be very careful about pursuing a lawsuit; if the plaintiff absorbs any fault, he or she will not recover any compensation and will likely still owe legal fees to his or her attorney.

Anyone considering a personal injury lawsuit must be very careful in a state with contributory or comparative negligence laws. While comparative negligence may only result in the plaintiff losing a small percentage of his or her case award, contributory negligence laws present a clear obstacle to many plaintiffs’ recoveries. Consult with a local personal injury lawyer to determine your best legal options and consider taking advantage of free consultation offers so you can glean a better understanding of how your state’s negligence laws could influence your claim.