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Comparative Negligence

Definition - What does Comparative Negligence mean?

Comparative negligence is a legal defense used in a personal injury lawsuit to reduce the amount a plaintiff may receive if they win their case. Under comparative negligence laws, the amount awarded to the plaintiff is reduced by their degree of negligence in causing their own injury or loss.

State laws vary. For instance, some states use a pure comparative fault rule, which allows the injured party to recover even if their fault is 99%. These states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington.

Other states use a Modified Comparative Fault Rule and only allow a party to receive compensation for their injuries or loss only if their negligence does not reach a specific designated percentage (e.g. 50% or 51%). In these states if the plaintiff is more than 50 or 51% at fault for their injuries they cannot recover any damages.

Eleven states use the 50% bar and do not allow plaintiffs to be paid if they are 50% or more at fault for their injuries. Twenty-two states use the 51% bar and only allow recovery of compensation if the plaintiff is more than 51% at fault for their injuries. All states allow for the reduction of the plaintiff's compensation for their degree of fault.

For example, if John is involved in a car accident in a pure comparative negligent state and the court determines he is 5% responsible for his injuries and Susie is 95% at fault, John may win compensation for his losses, but his payment would be reduced by 5%. For example, if $10,000 is awarded John could receive $9,500.

In other states with a 50% bar, if John was 50% at fault, he would be paid only $5,000. In a 51% bar state if he was 51% at fault he would receive no payments because he was determined to be more than half responsible for his own injuries.

Comparative Negligence and awards

As you can see by the information outlined above, gathering evidence that you are not responsible for your injuries can be critical to receiving any type of compensation for your personal injury claim. This is especially true if you live in a pure contributory negligence state, including Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. In these states you will be barred from recovery of any compensation if the court decides you contributed in any way to your own injuries. Talk to a personal injury lawyer if you have questions about your injury case.

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