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What is Comparative Negligence?


California follows what is known as a “pure” comparative fault standard. That allows a plaintiff to recover damages after his or her percentage of fault has been deducted, from the total percentage of fault, of one-hundred percent (100%). Plaintiff can recover damages in the percentage of fault attributable to the defendant’s negligent conduct.

The issue of comparative negligence usually arises in a situation where both parties, plaintiff and defendant, are partially at fault in causing an accident or other personal injury. In California, a plaintiff can still recover damages if he or she is ninety-nine percent (99%) at fault, but the recovery would be limited only to the remaining one percent (1%) attributable to the defendant. Other jurisdictions require a plaintiff to be no more than fifty percent (50%) responsible in order to recover damages from a defendant.

In disputed liability motor vehicle accidents, jurors are typically asked to apportion fault between the litigants, in addition to determining the full extent of damages suffered by the plaintiff. Once this has been accomplished, simple mathematics can determine the recovery available to the plaintiff. If defendant alleges the plaintiff contributed to his or her own harm, the trier off act must first determine (1) if the plaintiff was at fault; and (2) determine if the plaintiffs negligence was a substantial factor in causing his or her harm. If the defendant proves these issues, plaintiffs damages are reduced by the determination of the percentage of plaintiffs responsibility.

Not all motor vehicle or personal injury cases are the sole responsibility of one party or the other. Issues of comparative fault arise often in the evaluation of cases. The attorneys at Heiting & Irwin have years of experience evaluating these cases. If you are involved in any type of personal injury action, whether plaintiff or defendant, please call us at (951) 682-6400 for a free initial consultation.

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