In many traffic accidents, one party is clearly at fault. For example, one driver was stopped at a stoplight when another driver failed to hit the brakes in time and collided into the rear of the first driver's car. In this type of accident, a court would almost certainly find that the second driver caused the accident through negligence, and therefore should be held liable for the damages suffered by the first driver.
However, many car accidents are not so simple. Often, both drivers did something that contributed to accident, or worsened the damages of an accident. For example, imagine an accident where Driver A is driving over the speed limit when Driver B, distracted by a text on his cellphone, crosses lanes and collides with Driver A's car. Driver A is badly injured, requires expensive medical treatment, and is unable to return to work.
Does the fact Driver A was speeding disqualify her from filing a personal injury lawsuit against Drier B so that she can collect compensation for her damages?
In California, the answer to this question is no. California law follows a doctrine known as comparative negligence, which allows a person in Driver A's position to collect damages from Driver B in proportion to Driver B's share of fault for the accident.
At trial, a court would, using a long list of guidelines, determine the percentage of fault each driver bears for the accident and its resulting damages. Let's say the court determines that Driver B was 85% at fault for the accident, but that Driver A shares 15% of the fault because she was speeding. In this case, the court would reduce by 15% the amount Driver A could collect in compensation.
California's comparative negligence law is known as pure comparative fault, and follows the general outline in the example above, no matter how much fault the plaintiff bears for the accident. Theoretically, Driver A could collect compensation even if she were 99% at fault for the accident. However, in that case, the amount of her recovery would be reduced by 99%.
The injured and their families should speak to a personal injury lawyer about their options after a car accident. They may have more options than they knew.