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Can I Sue If I Was Partly at Fault for an Accident?

The fault for an accident is not always black and white. Most accidents involve gray areas, where it is difficult to tell exactly who caused the accident or how it happened. These gray areas have led to many states, including California, adopting comparative negligence laws.

In California, you may still file an injury claim against someone else even if you were partly at fault for the accident. You or your lawyer must navigate the state’s unique comparative negligence laws for maximum recovery.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

The two main types of negligence laws in the U.S. are contributory and comparative. Contributory negligence states that a victim forfeits the right to compensation if he or she contributes to the accident in any degree – even minutely. In contributory negligence states, it does not matter how much or how little the victim contributed to the accident. Any amount of fault will bar the victim from financial recovery.

Luckily, most states have transitioned away from contributory negligence laws and into comparative negligence statutes instead. In California, Civil Code section 1714 states that partial fault will not prevent a victim from recovering financially. Comparative fault will simply reduce the plaintiff’s compensation award by a reasonable amount according to his or her percentage of fault. It is up to each state to decide how much fault a victim can have before losing the right to recover.

The Impact of Partial Fault on Your Claim

States with comparative negligence laws either use a pure or modified version. In modified states, a plaintiff may still recover compensation up to a certain percentage of fault for an accident. If the courts find the plaintiff 51% responsible, for example, he or she could lose any right to recovery. In pure comparative negligence states, it does not matter how much the plaintiff contributed to the accident; he or she will still be eligible for at least partial recovery.

California is a pure comparative negligence state. This is good news for injured parties, as it protects their rights to file lawsuits regardless of how much they contributed to an accident. As a plaintiff, it will not matter how much you might have contributed to the fault for an accident in California. Even if a defendant proves you were 99% at fault, you could still recover partial compensation for the 1% of someone else’s fault. Minimizing your fault, however, will be in your best interests as a victim.

A courtroom in California will reduce your compensation award by your percentage of fault. For example, if the courts find you 5% responsible, you will receive 5% less of the awarded settlement or jury verdict (e.g. $95,000 instead of $100,000). Maximizing your compensation, therefore, will take you or an experienced personal injury attorney proving that the defendant was mostly at fault for the accident. The smaller your portion of fault for your injuries, the higher your potential compensation award.

Joint and Several Liability

Some accident claims will involve joint and several liability. This refers to shared liability across multiple parties for someone’s damages. In these cases, the courts will hold each party independently responsible for repaying the victim. As a plaintiff in this type of case, you could collect the full value of a settlement or judgment award from any defendant found liable. It will be up to you or your attorney to target the party most likely able to pay the full amount, such as a product manufacturer or business owner with significant insurance.

If you were partly at fault for an accident involving joint and several liability, multiple parties could still owe you compensation. The courts will simply deduct your percentage of fault from the judgment award. Your lawyer can then seek damage reimbursement from the party that has the means to pay. Finding out if you have the right to any compensation after partly contributing to an accident may take a consultation with an attorney. Speak with the attorneys of Henshaw Law Office today to explore your legal options.