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What If I Am Partially at Fault for a Car Accident? Can I Still Seek Compensation?

It’s not always easy to determine who was responsible for a car accident. Not every car crash is as cut and dry as a drunk or wrong-way driver. In many cases, the motor vehicle accident involves a variety of factors, from roadway conditions to manufacturer error. In accidents where more than one party is partially responsible, the California courts reward compensation based on comparative fault laws.

California Comparative Fault Laws

When it comes to motor vehicle accidents, California abides by pure comparative fault, or comparative negligence, laws. Pure comparative fault enables the court to award damages to multiple victims in an auto accident, based on the relative liability of each party involved. The plaintiff and the defendant are each liable only for their percentage of fault. This means that even if you’re partially at fault for a car accident, you can still seek and potentially recover compensation.

The “pure” part of California’s rule means that a party can still recover damages even if he or she was 99% responsible for the crash. In states with modified comparative negligence laws, there is a maximum percentage of fault (typically 50% or 51%) that once crossed means the party will receive zero in compensation. California’s laws are more flexible and enable a victim to receive compensation for any percentage of fault less than 100%. In states that abide by contributory negligence laws, the law completely bars a negligent party from recovery, even if he or she is only 1% at fault for the accident.

The court reduces each party’s amount of compensation by the equivalent of his or her percentage of fault. If, for example, the court finds you 10% responsible for a crash because you were speeding, but the defendant 90% responsible for texting and driving, you would receive $90,000 of a $100,000 total award. The defendant would be able to pay $10,000 less due to the 10% of the accident he or she didn’t cause.

Factors in a Comparative Negligence Case

Defendants use comparative negligence in California car accident cases to reduce the amount of compensation they must pay the injured party. It’s important to hire a skilled attorney to help reduce your own percentage of fault. To prove your innocence, or at least lower your percentage of fault, you need the following four elements of any negligence case:

  1. The defendant owed you a duty. All drivers owe a duty to reasonably prevent collisions with other motorists and pedestrians.
  2. The defendant breached his or her duty. The defendant failed to act prudently, engaging in activities such as distracted, reckless, or inebriated driving.
  3. The breach caused the crash. You must prove the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused your accident.
  4. You suffered damages because of the breach of duty. Evidence of your damages can include records of injuries, medical bills, and property damage.

Even with these four elements in place, the defendant will likely use your own actions against you. Common behaviors that can contribute to a plaintiff’s partial fault include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Eating and driving
  • Texting/talking on the phone while driving
  • Driver fatigue
  • Reading maps/GPS
  • Applying makeup/personal grooming
  • Listening to loud music
  • Driving with headphones in

Despite proof that you were engaging in any of these dangerous practices, the court may still grant you an award if you were less than 100% at fault. Even if you were engaging in any of these activities during a crash, speak with an attorney. You may still be eligible to receive compensation depending on the other driver’s percentage of fault. California’s comparative negligence laws often work in the plaintiff’s favor versus all-or-nothing contributory fault rules.

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