Who is Responsible?
In order to win your personal injury case, you need to prove that the defendant was negligent and thus liable for your injuries. The concept of negligence is discussed in Torts 101, but this article deals more with the challenges that arise when more than one person caused your injury, or you were in some way at fault.
When More Than One Person is at Fault
When there is more than one person responsible for an accident — for example, if several careless drivers cause a wreck — the law in most states provides that any one of the careless parties is responsible for compensating you fully for your injuries. This is known as “joint and several liability.” If the defendants are held jointly and severally liable, they must fight amongst themselves to determine the degree of fault that each of them must bear.
What if the accident that caused your injuries was partially your fault? For example, someone ran a stop sign, but you were speeding and could have avoided the other car if you weren’t. The good news is, even if your negligence partially caused an accident, in most states you can still get at least some compensation from the other negligent party. The amount of the other person’s liability for the accident is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own, a concept known as “comparative negligence.” The percentage of liability determines the percentage of the resulting damages he or she must pay.
For example, if your speeding was the partial cause of the accident that took place after someone else ran the stop sign, the court might find that you were 10% negligent. If your damages totaled 10,000, the defendant would owe you $9,000. The bad news is, there is no formula for arriving at a precise number for a person’s comparative carelessness. That depends on how each party’s actions would be viewed by a judge or jury. In the previous example, it is clear that the person who ran the stop sign was mostly at fault, and the degree of fault attributed to you may rest on how fast you were going. You should be aware that many states have rules that prevent you from recovering anything if you were more than 50% at fault.