Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence

Can I Still Receive Compensation if the Accident Was Partially My Fault?

The question of contributory and comparative negligence always on depends on where the accident happened. Each state is different. Utah has a modified comparative negligence rule, which means, you can receive compensation even the accident was partially your fault, so long as you are less than 50 percent responsible for the accident.

To understand the concept, you will have to back up and understand the theory of contributory and comparative negligence.

• Contributory Negligence – In states with this standard, if you are partially at fault for the accident, even a little bit, you cannot recover any damages at all.

• Comparative Negligence – States like California and New York allow plaintiffs to receive compensation when they were partially or even mostly at fault for the accident. The court will ask a judge or jury to find at what percent the plaintiff is liable for the accident. If the injured is 40 percent liable for the accident, that percentage will be removed from the damage award. If a plaintiff is awarded a settlement of $10,000.00, but the court found that he or she was 40 percent at fault for the accident, he or she would only receive 60 percent of the award – $6,000.00. There is no cut-off. If the Plaintiff was 80 percent at fault he or she would receive $2,000.00.

• Modified Comparative Negligence – Most states, including Utah and Montana, use a system that comes between contributory negligence and pure comparative negligence. There is a limit. In Utah, you cannot recover damages for an accident if you were more responsible for the accident than the defendant. Utah Code Ann. §78B-5-818. If you were 49 percent at fault for the accident, you can recover 49 percent of the damage award. If you are 50 percent at fault, you cannot recover anything.

Utah is a modified comparative negligence state with a 50 percent at-fault bar. That means that if you are at least half at-fault for the accident, you will get nothing. If you are less than have at fault, you can recover a partial damage award offset by the percentage at-fault you were.

Determining fault as a percentage based on real-life events is difficult. If the parties cannot agree on who was at fault, it is up to what lawyers call the “trier of fact,” to determine those numbers. The trier of fact is the person, either judge or jury, who adjudicates the evidence to determine which facts are true. This usually happens at trial. Cases where there is comparative negligence, are harder to settle outside of court.

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