If you have suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident, then it is possible you are due compensation from another responsible party. However, it isn't always easy to determine how much is owed you from a layperson's perspective. That is why you should understand the basics of legal fault and how blame is apportioned among the different parties in a case. Below is more information that will help you understand what may be owed to you, and even what you may owe to someone else in some circumstances:
The philosophies that govern negligence and compensation
A question that is fundamental to the modern system of civil law and jurisprudence in the United States is deciding how to compensate persons who have been wronged. To help answer that question, the fifty states have adopted frameworks that assign blame to the parties involved in a civil case. These legal structures provide a means of determining compensation amounts due to each party. Over time, three legal philosophies concerning compensation have arisen and been put into practice: contributory negligence, comparative negligence and modified-comparative negligence.
The original doctrine governing compensation for wrongs suffered, contributory negligence holds that the person injured must be completely blameless to be awarded damages. In other words, no matter what may have happened in the course of a car accident, if you did anything that can be shown to contribute to the accident, then you are due nothing from the other party. There are no shades of gray with contributory negligence; any act, regardless of its triviality, is sufficient to nullify an award. For example, if you are driving, exceeding the posted speed limit by 1 mile-per-hour, and strike a vehicle that runs a stop sign, then you can expect no compensation for your injuries.
Contributory negligence is gradually fading from the American jurisprudence system, though it still survives in Alabama, the District of Columbia, North Carolina and Virginia. All other states have adopted comparative negligence or modified-comparative negligence as their standard.
In response to the complexities of modern society, states have gradually eliminated contributory negligence and replaced it with a more nuanced means of assigning compensation. This system, comparative negligence, holds that each party in an accident is due compensation in an amount equal to the amount of the opposite party's negligence. This amount is expressed in a percentage; for an event where each party is ruled to be equally negligent, the distribution is split 50 percent to 50 percent.
As an example, if you are sideswiped by another car while traveling on a multi-lane roadway, but you are driving with your vehicle slightly in another lane, then you can expect a division of compensation based on the negligence of each party. In this example, the court may rule you are 30 percent responsible, while the other party, by default, is 70 percent responsible.
While comparative negligence seems more equitable than contributory negligence, some states have decided comparative negligence went too far in sharing the blame and did not adequately punish the main perpetrator of the accident. As a result, comparative negligence in its original form has been modified to deny awards to those who are more than 50 percent responsible for an accident. In effect, as long as a party is not mainly responsible, then they can expect to gain some compensation.
For example, if you are struck from behind while backing on a highway and are injured as a result, your level of negligence will likely exceed 50 percent. Though the other driver will probably share some of the blame for failing to stop their vehicle in time, chances are excellent the courts will not assign them blame exceeding 50 percent. As a result, your injuries will not be compensated at any amount, but you will likely be responsible for some percentage of the other party's damages.
For more information about the different methods of assigning blame and negligence, contact a car accident lawyer in your area.