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What If I Might Have Been Partly at Fault in Causing The Wreck?

If you were injured in a car crash by a negligent driver, you have the right to seek compensation for your injuries. You may be eligible for repayment of your medical bills and any wages lost due to your injuries, as well as additional damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress caused by the crash. What happens, however, if you were, or may have been, partially at fault for the crash? Do you still have the right to recover compensation from the other driver? Are you also liable for any damages? Continue reading to learn about how “comparative fault” operates under California personal injury law. If you’ve been hurt by a negligent driver in Southern California, call a dedicated Agoura Hills car accident attorney at the Halpern Law Firm.

What is Comparative Fault?

Comparative fault, also known as comparative negligence, is a legal doctrine that applies when multiple parties may all be partly to blame for an injury-causing event. Under comparative fault rules, a plaintiff who is partially responsible for the accident leading to their injuries may have their total damages award reduced by their percentage of fault for the accident. A defendant, in turn, will see their total liability reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff was actually at fault.

For example, imagine a drunk driver goes through a stop sign without stopping and crashes into another vehicle going through the intersection. The drunk driver was clearly negligent and bears responsibility for the accident. However, what if the other driver was texting just before the crash? A jury might find there’s a chance the accident could have been avoided had the second driver not been texting. The jury may decide that the drunk driver is 75% responsible for the accident while the texting driver was 25% responsible. If the texting driver suffered $10,000 in damages, they might only be eligible to recover $7,500 from the other driver ($10,000 less 25%) because of their own partial fault.

How Does Comparative Fault Work in California?

Different states have different rules about how comparative negligence works. In so-called “contributory negligence” states, for example, plaintiffs who are in any way responsible for an accident are unable to collect any damages, even if the other driver was 95% at fault. Contributory negligence laws are rare. In other “modified” comparative negligence states, a plaintiff can recover damages so long as they were less than 50% (or 51%) at fault for an accident. That is, so long as a plaintiff’s comparative negligence does not exceed that of the other at-fault parties, they are still eligible to recover. Their award will, of course, be reduced by their percentage of fault.

California follows “pure” comparative fault. In California, a plaintiff can seek damages from a negligent defendant no matter their own level of fault, so long as the defendant is also responsible. In the example given above, the drunk driver could sue the texting driver for their own injuries, even though they were 75% at fault. Their ultimate award would be reduced by 75%, the amount of their fault. And, of course, the texting driver could counter-sue for their own injuries. Although in California a plaintiff could technically sue even if they were 99% at fault, in practice, pursuing that legal claim would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. However, it’s important to know that you might have a case for compensation even if you think you might have been partially at fault. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney for a free case evaluation to learn about your options and get an idea about where you stand.

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a car crash in Southern California, call a passionate and effective personal injury attorney at the Halpern Law Firm. We fight for the compensation you and your family deserve. Contact us at (818) 785-5999 today. These cases are handled on a contingency basis, meaning you won’t be charged any attorney’s fees unless we win.

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