Comparative fault is a negligence rule according to which parties can share fault for one single accident, and the plaintiff can still receive compensation. According to California Civil Code Section 1714 every person is responsible for intentional acts he commit, and injuries that arise because of his acts.
California is a pure comparative fault state, where a plaintiff is entitled for compensation regardless of his percentage of fault. Thus, in case the courts finds a plaintiff guilty for 85% in an accident he will still be awarded some compensation. In a modified rule state, a plaintiff usually cannot exceed a certain degree of fault.
Public Policy of Comparative Fault
The rule of comparative fault is based on a public policy of holding people legally liable for their actions. In case a person was injured partly because of his own negligence and partly because of the negligence of other people, he should not be totally barred from bringing a claim.
The Amount of Plaintiff Negligence
According to CACI 405 in case the defendant claims that plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to his harm he must be able prove the following elements:
- Plaintiff was negligent
- Plaintiff’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing his harm
In case the defendant proves all the above mentioned elements, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by the jury’s determination of the percentage of his responsibility. According to CACI 406 the percentages must be total 100 percent when dividing up fault among the plaintiffs, defendants, and any non-parties.
The Way Comparative Fault Works
The Court or jury will assign a percentage of fault to each party involved in the accident. Once the percentages of fault are assigned, each party will be responsible for a percentage of his medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other financial damages, which are equal to the percentage assigned to that party.
Joint and Several Liability
In case when two or more defendants are responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, he can recover damages from either or both of the defendants. This is called joint and several liability. Joint and several liability is applicable to economic damages, including medical expenses, loss of income, property damage and loss of earning capacity. The plaintiff can also recover pain and suffering.
Contributory Negligence and Comparative Fault
As stated above, California is a comparative fault state, which allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if he shares the fault for accident. Contributory negligence is a harsher rule, which usually provides that in case the plaintiff is negligent in causing his own injury, he cannot get any compensation. The majority of states use some version of comparative fault, either modified comparative negligence or pure comparative fault. Some states follow a combination of both types of negligence laws.
Examples of Personal Injury Claims Involving Comparative Fault
- Slip and fall accidents
- Premises liability
- Medical malpractice
- Product liability
- Car accidents
- Bicycle accidents
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