Many accidents involve some degree of culpability by both parties. For instance, consider the case where a driver stops at a stop sign, but misjudges the speed of an oncoming car before entering its path. The oncoming car is speeding which deserves some of the blame for the accident, right? What is the result for the accident victims? The short answer is it depends where the accident happened. There are basic rules of law in the United States that will govern the outcome of this situation. They are:
1. States which use Pure Contributory Negligence (Washington, D.C., Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and South Dakota)
2. States which use Pure Comparative Fault (Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington)
3. States which use Pure Modified Comparative Fault (Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia)
Pure Contributory Negligence
In pure contributory negligence states, the general rule is that any negligence by the plaintiff will bar recovery. This rule of law is based upon the 1809 Butterfield v. Forrester case from England. American courts adopted this rule of law which essentially states that any negligence on the part of the plaintiff will bar any recovery. Most American jurisdictions have realized that this is a very harsh rule of law and have adopted some sort of apportionment of fault rules that will allow recovery. In the hypothetical, the speeding driving would likely be barred from any recovery even though the majority of fault lay with the driver who pulled into the path of the oncoming traffic.
Pure Comparative Fault
In pure comparative fault states, the general rule is that any recovery will be reduced by the plaintiff’s proportion of fault. In the hypothetical, let’s assume the plaintiff is exceeding the speed limit by 10 MPH. The jury might reasonably find him to be 20% liable for the accident and the defendant who pulled into oncoming traffic 80% at fault. The plaintiff’s damages would be reduced by 20%, but unlike pure contributory negligence, the plaintiff may still recover. The pure comparative fault rule allows a plaintiff to recover for damages provided he is not entirely liable for the accident. This means that a Plaintiff who is 99% at fault for an accident may still recover, but his damages will be reduced by 99%. Florida is a pure comparative fault state.
Modified Comparative Fault
In modified comparative fault states, the general rule is that any recovery will be reduced by the plaintiff’s proportion of fault unless the plaintiff is 51% liable (some states require only 50%). This essentially means that if the plaintiff is primarily responsible for the accident then his recovery will be barred. In our accident hypothetical, let us assume that the plaintiff was exceeding the speed limit by 25MPH and driving without lights, at night. Now it might be reasonable for a jury to find that the driver of the car the pulled into the path of the plaintiff is only 40% at fault for the accident. In modified comparative fault states, the plaintiff would be barred from any recovery.
What Does this Mean for Floridians?
Accident victims in Florida enjoy the benefits of a pure comparative negligence system. In my opinion, it is the most fair of three basic negligence schemes. It simply requires that each and every person bear the responsibility for their actions. It does not allow a party to avoid accepting responsibility for their actions via an arbitrarily created percentage of blame. It also means that injured accident victims should seek counsel to investigate the causes of any accident which causes injuries. It is important to look beyond the police report and the statements of the other driver to truly allocate fault.
Contact Jones Law Group
Have you or a loved one been injured in a bicycle, pedestrian or car accident? Contact an experienced St. Petersburg personal injury attorney at Jones Law Group today. When you contact our office we will immediately set an appointment where you will meet your attorney and be provided with his/her personal contact information. If you do not have transportation or you cannot drive, your attorney will travel to meet you and discuss your case with you.
Whether you were a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or the occupant of car, motorcycle or boat and have been injured in an accident, you should immediately call an experienced personal injury attorney in St. Petersburg at Jones Law Group at (727) 571-1333 during regular business hours or (727) 753-8657 on weekends or after regular business hours. We will evaluate your case for free and you will never pay us a dime unless we recover compensation for your injuries.
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5622 Central Avenue
St. Pete, FL 33707