Understanding Comparative Fault in California: Can I Still Recover if I Was Partially at Fault?
There are many possible causes of a motor vehicle accident. This includes not only the drivers, but also passengers, pedestrians or bicyclists, or even municipalities that designed, built, or maintained the roadway. But generally, when it comes to a California auto accident, the most culpable individuals are often indeed the drivers. Usually the most culpable driver is the one who was texting while driving, ran a stop sign, was intoxicated, or otherwise violated a traffic law. However, sometimes the other driver—even if severely injured and considered the “victim”—could even have some fault. Even if there was a small amount of partial fault in the auto accident, you can bet that an insurance adjuster will try to maximize the amount of fault on the victim to minimize the overall compensation that a victim and his or her family would be entitled to. Insurance adjusters may even tell a victim that his or her partial fault prevents any compensation.
Here at the Broadway Law Firm, we think that is not only unfair but also borderline unethical. California law absolutely allows a motorist who may have been partially at fault for a car accident to recover compensation for their personal injuries. But our experienced Los Angeles car accident lawyers know that insurance companies train their adjusters to minimize, undervalue, or even deny an otherwise valid claim. Without a strong and zealous advocate like our lawyers, victims of motor vehicle accidents may not recover the full compensation that they deserve. Learn how our law firm can help you during a FREE consultation by dialing (213) 464-0955.
Partial Fault Under the Law: Comparative Fault Versus Contributory Negligence
In any type of personal injury case, the fault of all parties must be assessed. This includes examining the possibility for partial fault of the victim of the subject accident. There are two ways to do this. Historically, all states used the “contributory negligence” approach. But now most states, including California, follow the “comparative fault” approach.
Contributory Negligence Approach
This approach examined whether the victim had any partial fault for the subject incident causing personal injuries. If there was any partial fault, even 1%, it would bar recovery. This was quite a draconian result. There are still five states today that use contributory negligence or a form of it.
Comparative Fault Approach
But the vast majority of states, including California, began to shift to a less punishing standard known as “comparative fault.” This standard allowed a court to take into consideration the proportional fault of all parties. Damages, or in personal injury cases the monetary compensation awarded, would then be awarded based on the proportional fault (a percentage) of the parties.
For instance, if a plaintiff received $200,000 in a court award but was found to be 10% partially at fault, the plaintiff’s award would be reduced by 10% to $180,000. Whereas in a contributory negligent state, the plaintiff would have received zero.
Variations on Comparative Fault
Some states had adopted “modified” or “pure” standards of comparative fault. In modified comparative fault states, generally if a plaintiff is 51% or more at fault for an accident, the plaintiff may be barred from collecting any compensation. Whereas with a pure comparative fault state a plaintiff could still recover compensation even if 99% at fault for the accident.
California has adopted the “pure” comparative fault approach. This means during a trial a judge will read an instruction or charge to the jury explaining the comparative fault of the plaintiff (available here). This tells the jury what they are to consider and how they are to assess a case.
How Comparative Fault in California Can Affect an Insurance Claim
California is an at-fault insurance state which means after a car accident, victims need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance. This is opposed to no fault states where a victim files a claim with their own insurance company, and the insurance companies figure liability out later or a victim commences a lawsuit for damages from the defendant’s insurance.
But since California is an at-fault state, everything that a victim says to the other driver’s insurance company is crucial to protecting your claim. This is because of the special training mentioned above that insurance companies give to their adjusters. These training sessions and speaking points are often developed and taught by car accident defense lawyers, who sometimes even help review claims with an insurance adjuster even though you may not know they are even listening or helping with a claim. The insurance company’s goal is to maximize a victim’s comparative fault while reducing the fault of their insured.
This is why it is critical for a victim injured in an auto accident to very carefully share details with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Better yet, this is why victims need to contact an experienced Los Angeles car accident lawyer like our lawyers at the Broadway Law Firm.
Get Help from Our Experienced Car Accident Lawyers
Our Los Angeles personal injury law firm fights back against overreaching insurance companies and aggressive defense lawyers who are trying to minimize or deny a valid claim for an injured motorist. We understand how California’s comparative fault laws work and we will not let our clients get taken advantage of after a negligent driver hurts them or their family. Learn more about how we can help you during a FREE consultation by dialing (213) 464-0955. You could also contact us with our easy-to-use contact us box available by clicking the link here.