What If You Were Partly At Fault In A Car Accident Case?

When filing a claim following a car accident, it's not uncommon for a person to worry about whether they might be seen as partially responsible for what happened. The law is structured to account for such situations, and here's what you need to know about the legalities.

How Comparative Negligence Works

In every state, the law dictates that a comparison of the relative negligence of each of the at-fault drivers has to be made. While one driver can be 100% at fault in an incident, there are still many scenarios where the negligence of the two drivers has to be balanced out. You may hear a car accident attorney refer to this concept as "comparative negligence."

Suppose a car accident occurred while you were turning into a shopping center and using a center turn lane to do it. An approaching driver was speeding significantly over the limit, but you also failed to check for the right of way. If this case went before a jury, the jurors would be asked to sort out just how much of the case was your fault and how much was assigned to the other motorist.

The 51% Threshold

Many states require that one party has to be at least 51% liable for a car accident before any claims or settlements can be paid out. Generally, the comparative liability determines how much is paid. For example, an at-fault motorist who was 75% responsible for an accident would have to pay 75% of the damages if the case went to court and a judgment was entered. If the total damages came out to $100,000, this hypothetical driver would be responsible for covering $75,000.

Note that such determinations are a little vaguer when dealing with an insurance carrier. The company will have an adjuster determine what they feel is the division of blame in the case, and they'll calculate a settlement offer based on the damages they've identified.

A few states allow even small percentages of fault to still be awarded. This leads to scenarios where, for example, a driver was 99% responsible for their injuries, but the injuries were so catastrophic that the other side still had to pay a certain sum based on their 1% liability.

It's always wise to consult with a car accident attorney to learn what the rules are in your state. Especially if an offer has been made before you retained counsel, having a lawyer review the offer can make a big difference.