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Does an Accident Victim’s Own Carelessness Affect Their Recovery?

Many people talk about personal injury lawsuits in clear cut terms, with an injured victim on one side and the defendant who caused it on the other. However, real life can often be murkier than that. Sometimes, a person injured in an accident was being careless too, and that carelessness helped cause the accident that ended up injuring them, such as a pedestrian texting while crossing the street who gets hit by a car that ran a red light. People injured under those circumstances often wonder whether they can still recover for their injuries despite their own role in the accident. The answer is that it depends on the law that applies to the injury.

Contributory Negligence versus Comparative Negligence

There are two types of law that might apply in cases where the injured party’s negligence was a partial cause of the accident. The first potential law is known as contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is the older legal doctrine, and one that used to apply uniformly across the country. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, any negligence on the part of the injured party would completely prevent them from recovering anything for their injuries. While contributory negligence is still the law in some states, others, including Florida, have passed new laws that replace contributory negligence with a more forgiving rule, comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence is a newer legal rule that, as the name suggests, involves comparing the relative negligence of both people involved in the accident. Then, after deciding the relative levels of fault, usually expressed as percents, the jury can reduce the person’s damages relative to the amount that they were at fault for the accident. For instance, if a jury decides that the injured plaintiff was 10 percent responsible for the accident, then they can recover only for 90 percent of the total cost of their injuries. Additionally, Florida is what is known as a “pure comparative negligence” jurisdiction, which means that even if the injured party is more than 50 percent responsible, they can still recover for their injuries subject to the same reduction formula.

How It Works in Practice

The doctrine can sound a bit complicated and mathematical in the abstract, but a concrete example can make it clearer. Imagine the scenario described above, a pedestrian is texting in a crosswalk when they are struck by a driver who ran a red light. Suppose the pedestrian’s total injuries amounted to $10,000 in damages. In order to determine how much the pedestrian could recover, the jury would first assess the relative fault of both parties. Texting in a crosswalk is certainly careless behavior, but it is probably less careless than running a red light. So, suppose the jury assigns 25 percent of the accident’s fault to the pedestrian, and 75 percent to the driver. Since the pedestrian was 25 percent responsible, their recovery is reduced by that same amount, meaning that they only receive $7,500 in payment from the driver.

Comparative fault is just one of many legal doctrines that could potentially come into play during a personal injury lawsuit. If you have been injured due to the carelessness of another and you want to learn more about your legal rights, contact a West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer at Pike & Lustig, LLP today.

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