Can I Claim a Personal Injury Settlement If I Was at Fault?

If one party causes an injury or economic loss to you due to negligence, you typically have the option of filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party to secure compensation for your losses. However, the issues of contributory or comparative negligence may arise depending on the nature of an incident and state laws. If a plaintiff was partially at fault for a claimed event, the plaintiff can usually still take legal action and secure compensation for damages with the help of a local personal injury attorney, but the plaintiff should expect to lose a portion of the settlement or case award to reflect his or her fault.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

When one party files legal action against another, the accusing party must prove that the accused party was somehow negligent in such a way as to cause the plaintiff’s claimed damages. This means proving the defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff, breached that duty in some way, and directly caused the plaintiff’s claimed damages. The plaintiff’s attorney must also provide evidence of the full extent of the plaintiff’s damages.

If an investigation into a personal injury claim reveals the plaintiff was partially liable for the claimed damages, the plaintiff will lose a portion of the settlement or cash award equal to his or her fault percentage in a state that follows a comparative negligence statute. Some states allow plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are found 99% at fault for their claimed damages, while other states modify the comparative negligence statute to limit recovery only if the plaintiff’s fault does not exceed the defendant’s.

Consider this example: a driver has the right-of-way as he proceeds through a traffic light but is speeding slightly. Another driver coming to the opposite direction attempts to make an illegal left turn in front of the first driver, causing an accident. In this situation, a jury would likely find the second driver more at fault than the first since the second driver committed a blatant moving violation. However, the jury may decide that the first driver is partially liable for speeding, assigning the plaintiff 20% fault for the accident. After the conclusion of the case, the plaintiff would then lose 20% of the case award to reflect his or her fault for the claimed event.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Depending on the value of a case, comparative negligence could mean a plaintiff receives a much lower compensation. Contributory negligence statutes are far less forgiving, however. Only five states uphold contributory negligence laws: Alabama, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. If a plaintiff is even 1% at fault for a claimed event in a personal injury case in any of these states, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages at all. Contributory negligence may also present a bar to recovery in an insurance claim with some policies.

Determining Your Best Legal Options in Arizona

If you recently sustained damages and injuries in a personal injury-related matter and do not know whether pursuing a lawsuit would be in your best interest, consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Every state upholds a statute of limitations for taking legal action for personal injuries, and this time window will close faster than you may expect. Additionally, an attorney can assess your degree of fault in your incident to determine if filing a lawsuit would be in your best interests considering state laws.

Typically, pursuing a personal injury case in one of the states that follow contributory negligence laws is an unwise decision unless the plaintiff has some way of absolutely guaranteeing he or she will not absorb any fault. In a case with plentiful clear evidence, a plaintiff may still succeed in recovering compensation in spite of existing contributory negligence laws. However, the states that uphold comparative negligence laws generally offer more flexibility when it comes to recovering compensation for personal injury claims.