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What is California's Comparative Fault Law (and How Does it Impact Personal Injury Claims)?

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What is California’s Comparative Negligence Law?

What is California’s Comparative Negligence Law?

Jul 23, 2021

Personal injury law encompasses a multitude of claim types, including car accidents, wrongful deaths, dog bites, slip/trip and falls, product liability, medical malpractice, premises liability, and more. Essentially, when another person or company harms you – whether out of malice or negligence – you have the legal right to file a civil lawsuit seeking to recover financial compensation.

But in different states, the way liability is determined in personal injury claims can vary. For example, California adheres to what’s known as the comparative fault (or comparative negligence) law when assessing damages in car accident, dog bite, or other types of personal injury lawsuits. Below we’ll look at what comparative fault means, and also discuss what the ramifications of such a law can be for Californians (both plaintiffs and defendants alike).

What is California’s Pure Comparative Fault/Negligence Law?

California is what’s known as a pure comparative fault state. Under comparative fault, an injured victim (the complainant) can still recover financial compensation (what’s known as damages in legalese) even if they happened to be partially liable (to blame) for the incident. This means that in virtually any personal injury case, the courts will assign a percentage of liability to each involved party. Accordingly, unless one person/company is 100% responsible for the incident, the involved parties will share a portion of the overall liability.

So, if you happened to be involved in a rear-end car accident where the at-fault driver was speeding (but you were also distracted at the time of the incident), it’s possible that the courts would assign you a percentage of the overall liability. As a result, if you suffered a broken arm in the accident (and ensuing medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.) and were awarded a $100,000 financial damages settlement, the final amount you recover through your claim could actually be reduced according to the amount of liability you were determined to have shared as a result of being distracted.

In this instance, if the court determined that your distracted driving represented 10% of the overall liability, your final damages award would be $90,000 (reduced from the initial $100,000). If the court determined your distracted driving played a larger role in the accident – say 30% – your damages award would be reduced accordingly to $70,000.

If you experienced a premises liability injury, don’t wait to file a claim. Contact our expert attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

California’s comparative fault (negligence) law establishes a legal doctrine by which fault (liability) can be properly divided among all parties. It’s actually a pretty fair way to determine a damages award in a personal injury claim, as total responsibility is factored and ultimately impacts the final figure (a sum of money) awarded.

By filing a personal injury lawsuit, you (the complainant or plaintiff) are claiming that the defendant caused your injury or harm. Under California’s comparative fault law, the defendant can claim that the plaintiff’s own negligence (or error) actually caused the injury or harm sustained. Ultimately, the court weighs the amount of responsibility shared by both parties, and those applied percentages impact the amount of financial compensation awarded. Accordingly, overall liability that is determined under California’s comparative fault law must amount to 100%.

What Types of Personal Injury Cases are Impacted by Comparative Fault Law?

California’s comparative fault law commonly applies in virtually any type of personal injury claim. The most frequent comparative fault claims are a result of:

If you’re injured or harmed in any of the above scenarios, don’t assume that because you share some (or most) of the responsibility you can’t file a claim to recover financial compensation. Contact an experienced and dedicated attorney at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) today for a free consultation. We’ll review the facts of the case, answer any questions you may have, and outline all available options you have under California’s comparative fault law.

California’s Comparative Fault Law History

In 1975, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s current law – known as contributory negligence – was unfair. Under contributory negligence, if the at-fault party isn’t 100% responsible for the injury or harm suffered, the victim is unable to recover any financial compensation (damages).

That means that, under contributory negligence, if you were deemed 1% responsible for a serious car accident that left you with catastrophic injuries, you would be unable to recover any financial compensation under the law. And while you may breathe a sigh of relief knowing that California replaced contributory negligence with comparative negligence in 1975, it might trouble you to learn that some states still adhere to such a law.

In fact, the following states still allow contributory negligence:

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington D.C.

Other states that do not apply pure comparative fault/negligence like California adhere to what’s known as the 51 percent modified comparative fault rule (or the 51% rule for short).

Under this rule, an accident victim may only recover damages if his or her percentage of fault does not reach 51%. In other words, a plaintiff must be found to be 50% or less at fault in order to recover any financial damages in a personal injury claim. Moreover, a plaintiff’s compensation will be reduced accordingly based on his or her percentage of fault.

The following 21 states apply the 51 percent rule:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

As California follows the pure comparative fault/negligence standard, an injured victim can recover any portion of damages caused by an at-fault party or parties. Even if the injured victim is partially responsible for the accident, he or she can still recover some amount of financial compensation.

However, rather than being issued a settlement check, the party involved in a personal injury claim that carries the greatest percentage of fault would likely have the “compensation” they recover applied to any settlement or verdict awarded to the party who was less at fault. In other words, the majority liable party (for our purposes let’s say 70%) would be able to reduce the amount of financial compensation they owed the other party by 30%. So, a $10,000 settlement would be reduced to $7,000 because the majority at-fault party was able to prove that he or she was actually not entirely responsible, and overall liability was shared by both parties.

This is a classic example of why it is so important to hire a qualified, experienced, skilled, and proven personal injury lawyer – whether you share the minority or majority of liability in a car accident, premises liability, pedestrian accident, or other personal injury claim.

How Does California’s Comparative Fault Law Impact Car Accidents?

Car accidents can be the result of a reckless driver, a pedestrian, an animal, or an entity – like when a government body fails to make proper road repairs. Accordingly, fault in a car accident can be assigned to multiple parties. This is, yet again, another reason why it’s strongly advisable to hire a skilled and dedicated personal injury lawyer after a car accident.

Proving fault can be difficult enough when it’s just you and another distracted driver. But what about when construction crews or local governments are involved? Ensuring that your portion of fault is accurately assigned can be difficult if not impossible without proper legal training and experience.

As a result, you could end up incurring more liability than you truly deserve without the proper legal representation. If the other party has a competent car accident lawyer handling their claim and you attempt to go it alone, they could – despite you actually not being at fault for the crash – end up convincing a judge or jury that you were responsible for your own injuries, and are therefore responsible for covering all the ensuing medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

After a car accident, the first call you should make is to DLG. Our Car Accident Division is led by a former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. With over 100 jury trial victories, Dordulian brings a level of experience to your car accident claim that simply can’t be found at most firms.

Rather than accepting an unfair or lowball settlement offer for your car accident injury, the DLG team will fight to recover maximum financial compensation on your behalf – even if that means taking the case to trial. Moreover, with two of our Car Accident Division attorneys having previously worked for major auto insurance companies, you can be confident that your rights will be protected, and we’ll always be able to counter any underhanded tactic or dirty trick attempted by these corporations (that will often go to great lengths to minimize payouts to injured victims who rightfully deserve compensation).

Moreover, to help ensure liability is always properly determined in every car accident case, we utilize an in-house Chief Investigator to uncover critical evidence that can help prove your claim and increase your financial damages award. DLG’s Moses Castillo is a retired LAPD detective who spent nearly 30 years serving the city of Los Angeles, including a tenure with the department’s elite Central Traffic Division investigating high-profile hit-and-runs, rollovers, and multi-car crashes.

What Happens if Both Parties Sue One Another for Damages?

It’s not unheard of for a car accident or other type of personal injury claim to result in two injured parties. When such a scenario occurs, it’s important to contact an experienced DLG attorney as soon as possible to ensure your claim is filed timely. In the event that the other party files a claim first, we would simply file what’s known as a ‘counterclaim’ on your behalf, seeking to recover financial compensation for your injuries and minimizing your overall liability under California’s comparative fault law.

If you are injured in any type of accident and find yourself being sued by the other party, don’t panic. Reach out to DLG and let us use our decades of combined experience and 98% success record to your advantage. We’ll fight to ensure you do not incur any undue liability or financial losses as a result of the incident.

What Types of Damages are Recoverable Under California’s Comparative Fault Law?

At DLG, we’ll fight to help you recover every applicable loss you’ve endured as a result of your injury. That includes fighting for both economic and non-economic damages (the latter being much more difficult to prove and requiring a skilled and experienced attorney).

Common damages recoverable under California’s comparative fault law include:

Economic Damages:

  • Hospital and medical bills
  • Rehabilitation or physical therapy expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Property loss/damage

Non-Economic Damages

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Psychological harm
  • Reduced quality of life

Additionally, in applicable cases, DLG will fight to recover any available punitive damages on your behalf. Punitive damages are not capped in the sate of California.

Schedule an appointment online for a free consultation today, or call us directly to speak to our top-rated, expert car accident attorneys.

Choosing DLG to Handle Your Personal Injury Claim

When you’re injured in an accident or as a result of another’s negligence or malice, the most important move you can make is deciding which attorney will handle your claim. Choose a firm that will treat you with the personalized attention and care you deserve. Choose a firm that has experience and proven results to give you peace of mind during your physical recovery. Choose DLG, and all the added advantages we provide to ensure that your case reaches a successful conclusion, justice is served, and you recover the maximum financial damages award you deserve.

Don’t put your claim in the hands of a settlement mill firm where you’ll be treated as a number. Choose DLG, the firm that offers you confidence and peace of mind through:

  • Our 98% success record
  • Over 40 years of combined experience
  • More than $100,000,000 successfully recovered in settlements and verdicts for injured clients
  • Former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County
  • Over 100 jury trial victories
  • In-house retired LAPD detective investigating your claim
  • Auto insurance industry insiders fighting for you

Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for a free consultation. We’ll answer any questions you may have and outline all of your options under the law. With DLG, you never have to worry about upfront fees or out-of-pocket expenses. Our No Win/No Fee Guarantee means you never pay a penny until we recover maximum financial compensation for your car accident, dog bite, premises liability, slip and fall, truck accident, or pedestrian accident, or other type of personal injury claim.

Contact the leading personal injury law experts at DLG today to get the personalized attention, experience, and dedication you deserve.

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