Most residents of Altoona intuitively understand the concept of “fault” – it is the failure to exercise due care. A person who fails to exercise due care may be liable for any damages suffered by another person. But what happens if more than one person is deemed to be at fault?
The answer is the concept of “comparative fault.” Prior to the legislature’s adoption of the concept of comparative negligence or comparative fault, a person could be barred from recovering damage if that person were also at fault for the accident. The absolution prohibition barred claims even if the plaintiff was merely 1% at fault compared to the defendant’s 99% share of fault. This rule prevailed in most states until the middle part of the 20th century when its obvious unfairness became obvious to many state legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s.
Pennsylvania adopted the standard of comparative negligence which removed the complete bar to recovery but reduced damages in proportion to the parties’ respective shares of fault. If both parties are judged to be equally at fault, neither can recover. If one party is only 40% at fault and the other is 60% at fault, the party who bears the lower share of fault can recover from the party whose fault is greater, but damages will be reduced in proportion to the degree of fault.
Comparative fault can produce some complex legal issues in a multi-party accident. Anyone who wishes to pursue a claim for damages in a multi-party case may wish to consult an experienced accident attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can assess the effect of the comparative rule on the potential for recovery and can provide an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.