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Recovering compensation when you were partly at fault

Most personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence. If one party caused an accident through negligence, the injured party can hold the negligent party liable for their damages. The idea is to help the injured party return as much as possible to the condition they were in before the accident, and to hold the other party accountable when they have hurt someone else through their own negligence.

However, there are some cases where both parties contribute fault to the accident, where even a party who was partly at fault can hold the other party liable for their damages. New Jersey law deals with this type of situation using a legal doctrine called comparative fault. Under this doctrine, a party can recover compensation for their damages so long as their share of the fault for the accident was less than 50%. However, their recovery will be reduced in proportion to their share of the fault.

Determining fault

To explain how this works in practice, imagine a case where Janet causes is texting while driving when she crashes into a car driven by Missy. The accident injures Missy, and she suffers  $1 million in damages. Janet has a duty to others to exercise care while driving, and she has breached her duty by looking at her phone instead of at the road ahead. Therefore, she can be held liable for Missy’s damages. However, the court examines all the evidence and finds that Missy herself contributed to the accident by speeding.

The court assigns a percentage of fault to each party, finding that Missy was 25% at fault, while Janet was 75% at fault. Because Missy’s share of fault was less than 50%, she can recover compensation from Janet. However, her recovery is reduced in proportion to her share of fault. This means instead of recovering the full $1 million, her recovery is reduced by 25%. At most, she can recover $750,000.

Damages in a car accident case can include things like medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages. In cases of serious injury, the total of damages can be extremely high, and can lead to financial ruin for a whole family. The injured and their family members should seek out help from a personal injury attorney to learn more about their options for recovery.