Most people understand that, in the aftermath of an accident that has caused you some personal injury, you have a right to seek compensation from the at-fault party to cover your losses, such as wages and income, unpaid medical bills, physical pain and suffering, and loss of companionship or consortium. But what is the impact on your right to damages if you were in some way partially responsible for your own injury? For example, what if another motorist was traveling far in excess of the speed limit and struck your car, but you also failed to stop at a stop sign or red light?
Under the law as it existed for centuries, and as it came to us from the English common law, the doctrine of “contributory negligence” was a complete defense to a claim of negligence. In other words, if a defendant could provide any credible evidence that the injured party contributed to the cause of the accident, the defendant could avoid any liability. As the law evolved, defense attorneys began to look for any hint of negligence or fault on the part of the plaintiff (injured person) and were often successful in doing so. In response to perceptions that the doctrine of contributory negligence was biased in favor of defendants, a new principle, which is now the law in all 50 states, came into practice in the last century—the doctrine of comparative negligence.
Not surprisingly, lawmakers could not come to agreement on exactly how comparative negligence would be applied. Accordingly, two approaches have developed:
- Pure comparative negligence — In a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction, the court will make a determination of total losses, and then allocate the liability between the parties. The injured party will always receive something, unless he or she is determined to be entirely at fault. For example, if damages are $100,000 and the injured party is found to be 60% liable, he or she will still receive $40,000.
- Modified comparative negligence — In a modified comparative negligence state, like New Jersey, an injured party may not recover any compensation if his or her fault is great than the defendant. In this instance, if the plaintiff is 60% responsible, he or she will receive nothing.
At the Cintron Firm, LLC, we offer more than 14 years of experience to people in New Jersey facing a broad array of legal challenges. Contact our office online or call us at 201-791-1333 or 917-494-5695 to set up an appointment.