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Personal Injury Law: Five Key Things to Understand About Comparative Negligence

Were you hurt in an accident? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites data showing that Americans make a collective 38 million emergency room visits each year. If you sought emergency medical attention because of an accident caused by the negligence of another party, you have the right to pursue financial compensation through a personal injury claim. 

California uses a comparative negligence standard for personal injury cases. Comparative negligence is a legal doctrine that holds that each party is responsible for their “share” of the blame for an accident. It could have major implications for your case. Here, our Stockton personal injury attorney highlights five key things to understand about comparative negligence in California. 

  1. Comparative Negligence Applies to the Full Range of Personal Injury Claims in California

In California, one of the cardinal principles of personal injury law is comparative negligence. It is a long-standing legal doctrine that was well-articulated in the instructive 1975 California Supreme Court of Li v. Yellow Cab, 119 Cal. Rptr. 858. Broadly defined, comparative negligence dictates that the degree of blame assigned to each party involved in the accident will determine the compensation party receives. Notably, the principle extends to the full range of personal injury cases, including: 

  • Car accidents; 
  • Semi-truck accidents; 
  • Pedestrian collisions; 
  • Motorcycle crashes; 
  • Slip and fall accidents; 
  • Dog bite injury cases; 
  • Premises liability; 
  • Defective product claims; 
  • Medical malpractice claims; and
  • Wrongful death lawsuits. 

Here is a general overview of comparative negligence work using a hypothetical example: Imagine that a person was injured by a dog bite in Stockton. An investigation reveals that the owner knew that the dog was dangerous. However, the investigation also found that the victim provoked the dog before the bite incident. Given that both parties bear some level of fault, the financial compensation recovered by the dog bite victim could be reduced on the grounds of comparative negligence. If the case went to litigation, a court would have to determine each party’s precise degree of fault. 

  1. You Can Still Recover Compensation If You are Partially At Fault for Your Own Accident

One of the most important things to remember about comparative negligence is that you still retain the right to pursue compensation even if you are partially at fault for your own accident. This stands in direct contrast to contributory negligence standard. Most states now operate under some form of a comparative negligence standard. Though, there are a small number of U.S. jurisdictions that still operate under the more harsh contributory negligence standard. 

In California, the compensation you receive in a personal injury settlement or personal injury verdict will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. As an example, if a court determines that you are 30 percent at fault for a rear-end collision in Stockton—and the total damages amount to $100,000—you are entitled to recover 70 percent  of the damages, or $70,000. 

  1. Every Percentage Point of Fault Affects a Settlement/Verdict in a Personal Injury Claim

In a personal injury lawsuit, every percentage point of fault carries weight. It directly impacts the amount of compensation the plaintiff can receive. The court—or sometimes the insurer —examines the actions of all parties involved to determine the proportion of fault. This degree of blame, represented in percentages, will then be used to adjust the compensation accordingly. 

Consider another example: If a plaintiff is 15 percent at fault in a situation with $200,000 in damages, the plaintiff will receive $170,000 after comparative negligence is applied. However, if they are found 30 percent at fault, they will only be able to recover $140,000. Even a few percentage points of blame could easily take thousands of dollars out of your pocket. Every case should be thoroughly investigated by an experienced Stockton personal injury lawyer. You do not want to be stuck with an unfair share of the blame. 

  1. Our State Uses a Pure Comparative Negligence Standard 

California follows a ‘Pure Comparative Negligence’ standard, a system that is even more generous to plaintiffs than the ‘Modified Comparative Negligence’ system followed by many other states. The pure comparative negligence system allows a damaged party to recover even if they are 99% at fault. This means that a plaintiff could theoretically be mostly responsible for an accident and still receive a small portion of the damages. This standard underscores the philosophy of fairness that the justice system aims to uphold. It ensures that a party suffering from an injury can secure some form of compensation, no matter how small, provided the other party is at least 1% responsible. In some states that operate under a modified comparative negligence standard, an injured victim may be barred from recovering compensation through a personal injury claim if they are found to be liable for 51 percent (or more) of their own accident. 

  1. Negligence is a Highly Case-Specific, Fact-Intensive Determination

Of course, comparative negligence rests entirely on the concept of negligence. Determining negligence is not as clear-cut as it may seem. It is often a highly case-specific and fact-intensive task. Every case comes with its own unique set of circumstances that requires a careful and comprehensive analysis. A number of different factors will need to be investigated and evaluated, including things like the specific type of case in question, the environment where the accident occurred, the actions of the parties involved, and any potential violation of state or local laws. No matter the situation you are dealing with, an experienced Stockton, CA personal injury attorney will protect your rights and your interests. 

Call Our Stockton, CA Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Review of Your Case

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton personal injury attorneys always put the needs and interests of injured victims first. Have any specific questions or concerns about comparative negligence or its impact on your claim? We are here to help. Contact us today to arrange a free case review with a top attorney. With a conveniently located law office in Stockton, we advocate tirelessly for injured victims throughout the San Joaquin Valley region.