Can I Sue If I'm Partially At Fault in a Car Accident?

by Barry P. Goldberg, A Professional Law Corporation
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Many people wonder if they can file a lawsuit against a negligent driver even though they were also at fault and contributed to the accident. In California, the answer is yes.

If you are partially to blame for a car accident in California, you can still recover financial damages from any other party who is also at fault, regardless of how much you are at fault. This means that even if you are guilty of the majority of the fault, you will still recover something, but any compensation of damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Partial Defense

In California, the comparative negligence system divides fault between the parties involved. Under the state's comparative negligence rules, the defendant can raise what is called a 'partial defense' by saying that the plaintiff was also partially to blame for the car accident and that the defendant is not solely responsible for damages. However, the defendant must be able to show that the plaintiff's negligence contributed to the accident to some degree, rather than merely making the injuries worse. Examples of negligent driving include speeding, reckless driving, unsafe lane changes, driving while distracted, driving under the influence, and disregarding traffic signs and signals.

California's Pure Comparative Negligence Rules

California is a "pure comparative negligence" state, and accident victims can recover for their injuries even if they were very negligent or their degree of fault was higher than that of the defendant. This means that where you have been negligent (i.e. you have failed to exercise reasonable care for your own safety or the safety of others), you and each of the defendants receive a percentage for degree of carelessness. Your financial recovery is reduced by that percentage of fault. The judge or jury has discretion to decide how much each person involved is responsible for the accident if your case is taken to court. Even outside of court, insurance claim adjusters will look to California's comparative fault rules in determining how much your claim is worth.

Examples of Comparitive Fault in a California Car Accident

First Example: The defendant was driving drunk and hit the plaintiff who was jaywalking. Damages from injuries suffered are determined to be $100,000, which includes personal injury, property damage, and lost income. The jury decides that the defendant is 80% liable and the plaintiff is 20% liable. This means that the plaintiff will recover $80,000 because the recovery is reduced by the plaintiff's own fault.

Second Example: The defendant hit the plaintiff during the process of making an unsafe lane change, but the plaintiff was driving too fast. After negotiations with the insurance claim adjuster, the plaintiff was deemed 15% at fault and the defendant was 85% at fault. With total damages of $10,000, including personal injury and property damage, the plaintiff recovers $10,000 in damages less 15% as the percentage of fault under California's comparative fault rules. This means that the plaintiff would recover $8,500 from the other at-fault party.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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