Filing suit when you were partly at fault: A look at comparative negligence

On Behalf of | Nov 21, 2019 | Personal Injury

In a textbook car accident case, one driver is stopped at a red light when a second driver carelessly plows ahead, colliding with the first car, and injuring the first driver. In a case like this, it’s relatively clear to see that the second driver caused the accident through negligence, and can be held liable for the first driver’s damages.

Many car accidents are not nearly this straightforward, however. In some cases, multiple drivers share some degree of fault for the accident.

Can a driver who contributed to an accident recover compensation for damages? Under Pennsylvania law, the answer is yes, but with some important limitations.

Like many states, Pennsylvania courts address this type of case with a legal theory known as comparative negligence. This means the court calculates the percentage of fault each driver holds for the accident. An injured person who was partly at fault can recover compensation for their damages, but their total recovery is reduced in proportion to their degree of fault.

Under Pennsylvania law, the injured can be found to be as much as 50% at fault for the accident and still collect compensation, although the amount will be proportionally reduced. However, if the plaintiff’s share of fault is more than the defendant’s, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation at all.

To illustrate this concept, imagine an accident in which Philip’s Ford collides with Phyllis’ Chevrolet. Phyllis is injured and suffers $100,000 in damages, including medical expenses and lost wages while she is unable to return to work. She files a personal injury lawsuit against Philip, claiming that his negligence caused the accident. The court examines the evidence and finds that the accident happened when Philip was negligently driving 45 mph in a zone where the speed limit was 30 mph. However, it also finds that Phyllis also contributed to the accident when she failed to use her turn signal before making a left turn.

Next, the court must apportion a degree of fault to each driver. If it finds that her failure to signal makes Phyllis 30% at fault, Phyllis can recover compensation from Philip. However, her award will be reduced by 30%. This means she can recover $70,000.

If, on the other hand, the court determines that Phyllis was 60% at fault for the accident, she cannot hold Philip liable.

If you have been injured in a car accident, but fear you can’t recover compensation because you were partly at fault, you may have more options than you think. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about how the law may apply to the facts of your accident.