Breaking Down Comparative Negligence in CA
You were injured in an accident. Your costs are adding up quickly, and you need to seek financial compensation. But, you are concerned that the accident may have been partially your fault. If it was, can you still file a claim? Or, does being partially at fault mean that you will need to find a way to cover the accident costs on your own?
In California, it’s good news. When two or more parties are partially at fault in an accident, California follows the law of “pure comparative negligence.” Basically, this means that regardless of your percentage of fault (as long as it is less than 100 percent), you can still seek compensation for your injuries. But, the amount you can recover will be reduced based on your percentage of fault—and you will need to consult with an attorney to decide whether it is still worth pursuing a claim.
If you were injured in an accident and you believe you may have been partially at fault, there is a lot you need to know. On this page, our personal injury lawyers break down comparative negligence in California, including:
When you get injured in an accident, proving that someone else was at fault is one of the first steps for recovering financial compensation. In legal terms, fault is referred to as “negligence.” If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to financial compensation under California law. California’s negligence law is the foundation of most personal injury claims—including claims arising from vehicle collisions, falls and other types of accidents.
California’s comparative negligence law applies when two or more parties share legal responsibility for an accident. Under this law, even if someone is partially responsible for causing an accident, that person can still file a claim for financial compensation.
California is one of the limited number of states that follow the law of “pure comparative negligence.” Under pure comparative negligence, someone can be 99 percent at fault in an accident and still file a claim. This is in contrast to the “modified comparative negligence” laws of many other states, which prevent accident victims from filing claims if they are more than 50 or 51 percent at fault for their own injuries.
So, how does California’s pure comparative negligence law work in real life? Here are some examples of how the law works in different types of personal injury cases:
You were driving on the 101. You were keeping up with traffic and driving slightly above the posted speed limit. The driver next to you changed lanes without looking and sideswiped your car. The impact caused you to lose control and you sustained multiple traumatic injuries in the crash.
In this scenario, it seems pretty obvious that the other driver was primarily responsible. But you were also speeding, which may have played a role in the extent of your injuries. Based on these facts, a jury determines that you were five percent at fault in the crash. If your losses total $100,000, you would be entitled to recover 95 percent of your losses, or $95,000.
You were walking and you entered a crosswalk without the right of way. A distracted driver sped through the intersection and hit you—having no idea you were there.
Entering an intersection without the right of way can be dangerous, both as a motorist and as a pedestrian. As a result, a jury would likely find you partially responsible for your own injuries in this scenario. But distracted driving and speeding are clearly dangerous and arguably more dangerous than entering a crosswalk expecting drivers to follow the law.
Let’s say the jury finds you 25 percent at fault and your losses are $200,000. In this scenario, you would be entitled to recover 75 percent of $200,000, or $150,000.
You were walking down the sidewalk after a late night out. You had too much to drink, and your faculties were impaired. As you were walking, you could see a hole in the sidewalk, but because of your inebriated state, you were not able to avoid it.
In California, property owners have a legal obligation to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. So, as a result of failing to fix the hole, the property owner could be deemed negligent in your case. However, attempting to walk home drunk could result in a jury holding you partially responsible as well.
In fact, since you saw the hole and still didn’t avoid it, let’s say a jury would find you 75 percent liable. Since California has a pure comparative fault law, you can still recover 25 percent of your losses even though you are primarily at fault for your own injuries.
Product-related accidents are unique because the law of negligence does not govern them. Instead, California law holds product manufacturers and retailers “strictly liable” when product defects lead to injuries.
But, even though manufacturers and retailers are subject to strict liability (meaning proof of negligence is not required), California’s pure comparative negligence law still applies. So, if you were injured by a defective product but you were partially at fault, the amount you could recover would still be reduced in proportion to your percentage of liability.
Determining the percentage of fault after any type of accident requires a comprehensive investigation of the circumstances involved. Just as you need evidence to prove that you are entitled to financial compensation, the other party in your case will need evidence to prove that you were partially at fault.
From traffic camera footage to eyewitness testimony, various types of evidence can be used to establish comparative negligence. When investigating your accident, your lawyer will analyze any evidence of possible comparative negligence, and your lawyer will consider this evidence in deciding how to strategically pursue your claim.
If multiple parties are responsible for your losses, this can further complicate the process of recovering just compensation. For example, let’s say you were 10 percent at fault in an accident and two other parties are each 45 percent liable.
At this point, we need to differentiate between your economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are those that have a direct impact on your finances, such as your medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic losses are those that impact you in other ways, such as pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and loss of enjoyment of life.
With regard to economic losses, California follows the law of “joint and several liability.” This means that you can recover 90 percent of your economic losses from either one of the other parties—even though neither of the other parties was 90 percent at fault. However, with regard to your non-economic losses, you would need to seek to recover 45 percent from each party.
Notably, California’s pure comparative negligence law does not apply to all types of claims. Specifically, if you have a “no-fault” claim, then your partial fault (if any) will not impact your right to compensation. This generally applies in two types of scenarios:
If you file a claim after an accident and the insurance company accuses you of being partially at fault, what should you do? At this point, the best thing you can do is consult with a lawyer. You will need your personal injury lawyer to collect evidence of liability and deal with the insurance company for you; and, if the insurance company refuses to pay just compensation, your lawyer may need to take your claim to court.
Do you have questions about California’s comparative negligence law? Are you concerned that you may be deemed partially at fault in an accident? For a free, no-obligation consultation, call 800-789-8840 or tell us about the accident online now.
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