What if You Were Partially at Fault for Your Accident?

Everyone makes mistakes, especially on the road. However, many injured motorists incorrectly believe that if their own negligence contributed to their injuries in any way, they are wholly unable to recover legal compensation. This belief is based on an old rule of law called contributory negligence that has been abolished in all but a handful of states. While shared fault can still affect your personal injury award, it is usually not a total bar to recovery.

California abandoned the idea of contributory negligence in 1975 when the California Supreme Court decided Li v. Yellow Cab Co. of California. Since that time, the rule in California has been that an injured plaintiff can recover damages as long as the person’s own fault was not 100 percent. However, each defendant’s liability is limited to the percentage of fault assigned. In other words, if the plaintiff suffered $100,000 in losses and a jury finds that the plaintiff was 70 percent at fault for the injury but the defendant still bore the other 30 percent, the plaintiff could still recover $30,000.  In effect, the damage claim is apportioned by the percentage of comparative negligence. 

In considering whether a plaintiff is at fault, juries look at the same facts and factors as they do for defendants:

  • Traffic violations
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Intoxication
  • Poor vehicle maintenance 

Defense attorneys are quick to point out any possible basis for plaintiff contribution to reduce liability for their clients and their insurance carriers.