In a perfect, textbook case of a motor vehicle accident, you might have one completely blameless driver who was stopped at a stoplight when a careless driver smashed into the back of their car. In a case like that, it’s clear that one person was at fault, and that their negligence caused the other person’s damages. Therefore, the injured person can hold the negligent driver liable for their damages.
Accidents like that happen all the time, but there are also many accidents in which the questions of fault are more complicated. What if both drivers did something careless? Can a plaintiff recover compensation for their damages if they were partly at fault for the accident in which they were injured?
In some cases, the answer to this question is yes. To explain why, we must explore a legal concept known as comparative negligence and how it has changed recently in Florida. After some brief background, we’ll give you some examples to see how these concepts work under Florida law today.
For many years, courts held that a person was barred from recovering compensation in a personal injury suit if their own negligence contributed to the accident in which they were hurt. It didn’t matter if the injured person was only 10% at fault and the other person was 90% at fault. The fact that they were partly at fault meant they could not recover anything. This harsh rule led to some results that many people found grossly unfair.
In some states, that’s still how the law essentially works, but over the years, many states changed their laws to adopt a comparative negligence system. Under these laws, courts look at the facts of a case and assign a percentage of fault to each party. An injured party can recover compensation from the others, but their recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of fault. So, if a plaintiff was 10% at fault, their recovery must be reduced by 10%.
In a so-called pure comparative negligence system, an injured party can, theoretically, recover compensation even if they were 90% at fault for the accident in which they were injured, but their recovery would be reduced by 90%.
That’s how Florida’s comparative negligence law worked until recently. Last year, Florida modified its comparative negligence law to limit recovery only to plaintiffs who were no more than 50% at fault. If they were more at fault than the other party, they are barred from recovery.
Imagine a case in which Ava’s Ford and Zelda’s Chevy collide. Zelda is injured and sues Ava, seeking compensation for $100,000 in damages.
The court reviews the evidence and determines that Ava was 40% at fault for the accident and Zelda was 60% at fault. In this case, Zelda’s share of fault is greater than Ava’s, and therefore Zelda cannot recover any compensation.
However, if the court found that Ava was 60% at fault and Zelda was 40% at fault, the out come is very different. Zelda’s share of fault is less than Ava’s, and so Zelda can recover compensation from Ava.
Remember that in this case Zelda’s recovery is reduced in proportion to her share of fault. She was 40% at fault, and so her recovery is reduced by 40%. Instead of $100,000, she can recover only $60,000 from Ava.
In this blog post, we’ve been discussing textbook cases and hypothetical examples. Car accidents and lawsuits can be a lot more complicated in the real world. Anyone who has been injured in a car accident may want to talk to experienced professionals to learn how Florida’s comparative negligence law can apply to the facts of their case.