The first thought most people have, after being involved in an accident that they may have contributed to, is whether they are entitled to any compensation for their injuries. In other words, if you are partially at fault for the accident, you may still be entitled to some compensation. Whether you can recover, and to what extent, depends on the laws of your state.
What does “comparative fault” mean?
In personal injury cases, the term “comparative fault” refers to the degree to which each party is held responsible for the damages caused in an accident. In the United States, there are three different comparative fault systems recognized by the courts: pure contributory negligence, pure comparative fault, and modified comparative fault. The courts of each state have made separate determinations as to which system it follows. So, the first question to be answered is, which system does your state follow?
The Pure Comparative Fault System
Comparative fault simply means apportioning damages between all negligent parties, based on the share of each party’s fault. Under the pure comparative fault system, a plaintiff’s negligence does not bar recovery. Instead, the plaintiff may still recover even if the accident is 99% the fault of the plaintiff. The only difference is that the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by his or her degree of fault. Many courts who have declined to follow a pure comparative fault system, criticize the system for allowing a plaintiff who may be primarily at fault to still recover. There are only twelve (12) states that currently follow the pure comparative fault system, including Missouri.
The Modified Comparative Fault System
In the more commonly recognized Modified Comparative Fault system, each party who is at fault will be responsible for damages in proportion to the percentage of their fault. However, if the percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence reaches a certain threshold, then the plaintiff’s recovery will be completely barred. Currently, 33 states follow this system, including Arkansas. This system also has its critics, mainly because of the complication and confusion in determining the percentage of fault when multiple parties are involved. Eleven (11) states, including Arkansas, follow the 50% Bar Rule.
The Pure Contributory Negligence System
The other system, recognized by only four states and the District of Columbia, is the contributory negligence system. This is by far the harshest system for plaintiffs. A plaintiff is considered contributorily negligent if any conduct on the part of the plaintiff contributes to the accident. The pure contributory negligence system is actually a defense raised by the defendant, which, if proven, bars the plaintiff from any recovery. This is true even if the plaintiff is only 1% at fault. This system is obviously criticized for being too harsh because even the slightest amount of contributory negligence by the plaintiff bars all recovery no matter how egregiously negligent the defendant might have been.
If you have questions regarding who is at fault in an accident, or any other personal injury questions, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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