Does Sharing Fault for an Accident Mean I Can’t Recover Damages?

Most accidents aren’t cut and dry. Some are. There will always be accidents that are clearly the fault of a single individual, such as a drunk driver. But most accidents involve a large number of factors all coming together to create an accident. This can make it much messier to determine who is at fault.

When all the facts of your accident are laid out, you may discover that you share in the fault. This can be quite scary for some people because they think it means that they won’t be able to recover damages. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.

In California, we use something called pure comparative fault for personal injury cases. Multiple parties involved in an accident can be awarded damages, but that award will depend on how much of the fault each party shared. It may sound a little complicated, and it certainly can be, but it isn’t quite as confusing as it seems.

How Does Comparative Fault Work in California?

In some states, you can’t recover damages at all if you share any of the fault. Thankfully, California’s approach is much more lenient and fair. Instead of treating fault like an on-and-off switch where if you have any fault then you’re out, California compares the fault of each party and uses this to determine how damages are awarded. Let’s use an example to make this a little easier to follow.

Having been kept late at work, you are in a rush to get home and get into a car accident. You are driving rather impatiently, though not quite recklessly when suddenly you crash into another vehicle driving the wrong way. It turns out that they were making an illegal pass and came into your lane, but you hadn’t been able to react to them because you were in such a rush.

In this example, both you and the other driver share a portion of the fault. However, it is obviously clear that the other driver shares a much greater portion than you do. After everything is investigated and looked into, it is determined that you are 25% responsible for the accident. This would make the other driver 75% responsible. But how does that affect the damages you are looking to recover?

Say you are looking to recover $20,000 in damages. Since you share in the fault, you will not be awarded the full amount in damages. However, you could recover $15,000. This is $20,000 minus 25% because of your contributory negligence.

This means that if you only share a little bit of the responsibility, you can still recover most of the damages you are after. But what would happen if you were the other driver in our example? You’ve been found to be 75% responsible. This would make you mostly responsible for the accident, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recover damages. If you are 75% responsible for an accident, you could only recover 25% of the damages you were after.

What Does It Take to Recover Damages from an Accident?

To be able to recover damages, you must be able to win a lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits are based upon four important factors, each of which must be present in order to win. If you can prove each of these factors, then you will be able to recover damages. Proving them is easier than it sounds, however, since the other party has a vested interest in convincing the judge that you’re mistaken.

To recover damages following an accident, you must show the following:

  1.  That you were owed a duty of care from the other party. For example, all drivers have a duty of care when behind the wheel. A property owner has a duty of care to keep the grounds clean and free of dangers when opening them to the public. If an individual doesn’t owe you a duty of care, then there is little reason for them to take responsibility for your injuries.
  2. That the duty of care you were owed was breached. This could mean that a driver was going over the speed limit, a property owner failed to provide adequate security or any other offending action. Most of us have a duty of care to not behave recklessly, negligently, or carelessly, though what constitutes these is determined by the action we’re engaged in at the time.
  3. That the breach of the duty of care is what resulted in the accident. This means that the negligent behavior of the other party resulted in your accident. You can’t hold somebody liable for your damages because they were acting recklessly at the time you had your accident; they must have been reckless in a manner that resulted in the accident.
  4. That you suffered damage as a direct result of the accident. It must be shown that the injury or damages suffered were a result of the accident and not some other cause. This is why it is always recommended to go to a doctor following an accident; if you wait to seek medical aid, the other party can argue that the injury you suffered was caused in another manner.

How Is Fault Established?

Fault is established through evidence. A personal injury lawsuit without evidence would be a shouting match, each side arguing the other is to blame and doing nothing to prove it. The way to establish the other party’s fault is to gather and present evidence.

Medical records can be used as evidence of an injury. Photos of the accident can provide substantial evidence about what occurred, including details like the speed at which the accident occurred. Testimony from experts may be used to establish a professional opinion. Videos are always helpful, as they can show exactly what went down. Eyewitness testimony can offer an unbiased view of the event.

There is all sorts of valuable evidence that can be collected in order to build a compelling and comprehensive case.

Should I Speak To an Attorney?

If you have been in an accident, then reach out to a personal injury attorney. They will be able to help you to investigate and build your case. They won’t be afraid that you share some of the fault. They understand how California’s comparative negligence laws work and can help you to better understand them too.