After you have been injured in a car accident, you face a long, painful recovery. In the worst cases, you may never fully recover. Either way, you will likely face enormous medical bills, lost wages and other economic losses that can devastate your finances and those of your family.
If your injuries were the result of another person’s negligence, you may hold the negligent party liable for your damages. But what if you were negligent, too? Can you hold another party liable and recover compensation for your damages if you were partly at fault for the accident?
Pennsylvania deals with this question through a law known as comparative negligence. Essentially, the law holds that a plaintiff can recover compensation for their damages so long as their share of the fault was no more than 50%. However, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of the fault.
The best way to explain this concept is through an example. First, let’s remember what negligence means in the context of a car accident case. All drivers owe a duty to others to exercise reasonable care so as to avoid the risk of an accident. When they breach this duty, they act negligently. If they cause an accident through their negligent, and someone else is injured and suffers damages, then the negligent party may be held liable for the injured party’s damages.
Now for the example: Imagine an accident in which Nick’s pickup truck collides with Polly’s sedan. Polly is injured and files a personal injury claim against Nick, claiming that he caused the accident through negligence. Nick acted negligently by running a stop sign. However, Polly acted negligently as well by taking her eyes off the road to change the radio station on her car stereo.
The court reviews the evidence and assigns a percentage of fault to each party. Nick was 75% at fault, while Polly was 25% at fault. Because she was less than 50% at fault, Polly is not barred from recovery. However, her recovery must be reduced in proportion to her share of fault. Her recovery is therefore reduced by 25%.
Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law applies in cases involving multi-vehicle accidents as well. Imagine a three-car accident involving Nick, Polly and Kate, all of whom did something negligent that contributed to the accident. The court determines that Nick was 40% at fault, Polly was 40% at fault and Kate was 20% at fault. Kate files suit against both Polly and Nick. Because Kate’s share of fault was less than 50%, she is not barred from recovery. However, because she was 20% at fault, her recovery is reduced by 20%.
In the three-car example above, it is also possible for Polly or Nick to hold the other two liable for their damages. However, their recoveries would be reduced by 40%.
As you can see, these cases can be complex. However, a personal injury action can be a very important way for the injured and their families to cope with the devastating long-term impacts of an injury.