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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What is "comparative negligence" in a traffic accident?

By: Michael Schreyer

Car accidents are seldom so cut and dry that you can point a finger at one person and claim they are 100% at fault. Often times, car accidents are caused by a myriad of little factors that add up to one, big disaster. If a driver changes lanes and fails to use their turn signal, they are partially at fault, even if the driver that hit them was speeding at the time of the accident. Because of this, during lawsuits that arise from traffic accidents, determining who was completely at fault isn’t always a possibility. That’s where comparative negligence comes into play.
Image Courtesy of: gitmanlaw

Let's look back at the example above

Both driver made a mistake, the first, driver A, failing the signal the intention to shift lanes, and the second, driver B, for speeding. If either one of them had been following the rules of the road more strictly, then the accident might never have happened in the first place. As such, because both drivers share at least some part of the blame, it can have an affect on the outcome of the lawsuit. Let’s say that driver A decides to sue driver B for the accident to the sum of $100,000 for personal injury and property damage. In states that use comparative negligence, the jury decides what percentage of the fault lies with each driver. For this example, the jury decides that driver A is 30% at fault for the accident due to not using a turn signal, putting driver B at 70% responsibility. This would mean that driver A would only be awarded 70% of the damages sought, due to fault in the accident.


The upshot to the comparative negligence law is that it holds all drivers accountable. Because of the ease in which a driver can ‘fudge’ the recounting of the accident in their favor, it makes people more likely to be dishonest. With this system in place, it makes lawsuits a little more fair for all parties involved, and the driver who was most at fault isn’t being shouldered with the all the blame. On the other hand, some states require you to be no more than 30% responsible for the accident, otherwise the case has the potential to be tossed out and you might find yourself stuck with the extensive medical and repair bills from the accident.

What should I do?

The best option is to avoid the situation to begin with. Use defensive driving techniques, and be aware of what’s happening on the road around you can help prevent you from ever being in an accident to begin with. By using your turn signals, obeying the speed limit, leaving extra room between you and the car in front of you, you can reduce your chances of being in an accident, as well as reduce your level responsibility should an accident happen. In the worst case scenario, if you find yourself in a car accident, make sure you take the necessary steps. Contact your car insurance, and get the other driver’s information. If it’s anything more serious than a fender bender, make sure you call the police and file a police report. Take pictures and notes of the accident, as well as any damage that occurred to the other driver’s car, and not just your own. Lastly, if you’ve been injured, make sure you consult with a personal injury attorney to understand what all of your options are.

About the author: Michael Schreyer is a personal injury attorney in Maryland and is a partner in the firm of Alpert Schreyer, LLC.  He is an experienced personal injury attorney, serving the Maryland and Washington, DC area and providing information and advice on his law blog at dcmdlaw.com.

Reference: Wikipedia (2016); Comparitive Negligence. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_negligence
Image license:  Gitman Law/Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA-2.0