Most states abide by either comparative fault or contributory negligence laws when it comes to recovery for car accidents. Comparative fault is the norm, with only a handful of states still using contributory negligence laws. California uses a pure comparative fault rule. After an auto accident, the courts may assign a portion of fault to both parties. Even if a plaintiff has some fault, he or she may still recover at least partial compensation under state law.
Comparative Fault vs. Contributory Negligence
States with comparative fault laws allow an at-fault plaintiff to recover partial damages, while those with contributory negligence laws bar a plaintiff from recovery entirely for even 1% fault. Most states have done away with outdated contributory negligence laws for being unfair to accident victims.
Some states use a combination of both types of negligence laws. In Michigan, for example, the courts will only reduce economic damages if a plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, but will bar recovery for noneconomic damages altogether. California is a comparative fault state. After a car accident, both parties may share fault for the crash, and a plaintiff may still recover compensation even with a percentage of fault.
California’s Pure Comparative Fault Rule
States with comparative fault laws follow either pure or modified rules. In pure comparative fault states, like California, a plaintiff can have any degree of fault and still be eligible for some compensation. Even if the courts find the plaintiff 99% at fault for the car accident, said plaintiff could still recover 1% of a compensation award in a pure comparative fault state. In a modified comparative fault state, however, the courts will limit a plaintiff’s ability to recover past a certain percentage of fault.
Modified comparative negligence states often cap a plaintiff’s allowable fault at 49%, 50%, or 51%. If the courts find the plaintiff more than the allowed amount at fault for a car accident, the plaintiff will lose any right to compensation. In all comparative negligence states, the courts will assign compensation according to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. If a plaintiff were 25% responsible, for example, the plaintiff would recover $75,000 of a $100,000 award ($100,000-[$100,000 x 0.25 = $25,000] = $75,000).
Obtaining the greatest possible compensation award in a pure comparative fault state takes hiring a car accident attorney. Your attorney will work to minimize your percentage of fault to ensure the greatest possible financial recovery. Keeping your degree of fault as close to 0% as possible will lead to the ability to take home more of a settlement or jury verdict award. The courts will only order a defendant to pay for an amount equal to his or her percentage of fault. Fighting to increase the defendant’s degree of fault will result in higher compensation for the plaintiff.
Filing a Claim Against the At-Fault Party
California is also a fault-based insurance state. During the car insurance claim process, involved drivers will seek reimbursement from the at-fault party’s car insurer. In no-fault states, on the other hand, all parties will call their own insurance companies, regardless of fault. To start the insurance claim process after a crash in California, you must identify the at-fault driver. Then, you will call that party’s insurance company to file a claim.
Be careful what you say to another person’s insurance provider. The insurance claims adjuster’s job will be to get you to settle your case for as little as possible. Be truthful with the adjuster, but do not offer more information than is necessary. If you do not feel comfortable negotiating with an adjuster on your own, contact an attorney to handle settlement communications for you. A lawyer will protect your rights and best interests during the car accident claim process.