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How comparative negligence could affect your car accident case

On Behalf of | May 29, 2024 | Personal Injury

Most of us know that if a negligent driver crashes into us, we can hold them liable for our damages. This is the legal underpinning of most personal injury lawsuits involving car accidents. But applying this legal framework to the unique facts of a case can be tricky, especially when more than one party was negligent. In this type of case, a related concept known as comparative negligence (or comparative fault) can change the outcome.

A fairly simple example gets more complicated

To give an example of a fairly straightforward car accident, imagine Nick is lawfully crossing in a crosswalk when Polly, running a red light, negligently crashes into him. Nick is injured and suffers $100,000 in damages. He files suit against Polly, seeking compensation for his damages. 

For the purposes of this example, let’s say it’s clear that Polly caused the accident through negligence. The court finds her liable and orders her to pay Nick $100,000.

Now, let’s imagine the same scenario, but with a key difference: Now, Nick is crossing the street at a time when the traffic light is red and Polly has the green light.

In this more complicated case, Nick has contributed fault to the accident in which he was injured.

Connecticut’s comparative negligence law

Connecticut courts deal with this type of case by applying the state’s comparative negligence law. This holds that a plaintiff can recover compensation so long as they were less than 51% at fault. However, the plaintiff’s compensation must be reduced in proportion to their share of fault.

First, the court determines a percentage of fault for the accident to each party involved. For instance, a court might say that Nick’s careless walking against the red light was a major reason for the accident. However, after reviewing the evidence, it also finds that a reasonable driver in Polly’s circumstances would have seen Nick and slowed down to avoid hitting him.

The court decides that the parties are equally at fault, meaning that Nick and Polly each contributed 50% of the fault.

Under Connecticut’s comparative negligence law, Nick can hold Polly liable because his share of the fault was less than 51%. However, his recovery must be reduced in proportion to his share of fault. This means instead of $100,000, he can recover only $50,000.

Comparative negligence can be important for either the plaintiff or the defense. A defendant like Polly might rely on comparative negligence to limit the amount of compensation they have to pay out. A plaintiff like Nick might rely on it to secure some amount of the compensation they deserve and desperately need.

Attorneys serving the Middlesex County area, including Cromwell, Haddam, Chester, Clinton, Essex, Portland, and Middletown.