Comparative Fault in California

Categories: Vehicle Accidents

Picture a gray SUV traveling down Interstate 5 on a sunny afternoon in heavy traffic. The driver of the vehicle is texting a friend and doesn’t notice a traffic barrel in the middle of his lane. When he looks up, he brakes suddenly, causing the vehicle behind him – a black minivan – to crash into the back of his vehicle. The driver of the minivan is also distracted by her cell phone. The driver of a third vehicle, a red sports car, is fully aware of what is happening but is following the minivan too closely and can’t brake in time to avoid a collision.

In the wake of this multi-vehicle crash, all three vehicles are greatly damaged and all three drivers suffer moderate injuries. A lawsuit is filed by all three motorists and, now, it is up to you to determine who is to blame for the crash.

This is not an easy task, but you, our wise and objective observer, will be aided by the principle of comparative negligence, or comparative fault. This principle is based on the idea that the amount paid for damages in a vehicle crash can be based on the percentage of fault assigned to each party involved.

Making Your Decision

In this hypothetical thought experiment, you have several factors to consider when comparing the accountability of each driver. First, drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. The first two drivers were both distracted and, thus, will likely bear much of the responsibility for the crash. But what about the fact that drivers are urged to leave adequate space between themselves and the vehicle in front of them? In that sense, the second and third vehicles might also share fault for the collision.

Before you hand down your ruling, there’s another factor to consider. The entire collision was caused by a traffic barrel. Was there a construction company responsible for keeping that barrel out of traffic, and did they fail to take reasonable actions that could have prevented the crash? If the answer is yes, then determining negligence becomes even more complicated.

Comparative Fault as a Legal Principle

Comparative fault has been a guiding principle in California law since the 1970s. As opposed to contributory negligence – the concept that even if a plaintiff was 1 percent responsible for an injury, they would be denied compensation – comparative fault allows for a more nuanced, fair approach to determining who will be awarded payment in a personal injury case.

Attorneys who handle personal injury claims in California know how important it is to build a solid case on behalf of their client to ensure the lowest level of comparative fault possible. Personal injury attorneys accomplish this goal by investigating the circumstances of a case, looking for signs of negligence among other parties involved and presenting evidence that their client was acting properly.

There are two things someone involved in a vehicle crash should keep in mind about comparative fault. First, even if they share some responsibility for a crash, they can still recover compensation for the damages they’ve suffered. Second, the amount you can recover will be based on the strength of the case you present, so it’s best to enlist the services of a skilled, experienced personal injury attorney.

Hopefully, the hypothetical crash described above won’t happen to you. But if it does, make sure you consider all your legal options and speak to an attorney who will represent your best interests in a personal injury claim.

If you’d like to speak with an attorney about a potential claim or to learn how comparative fault might be applied to your case, contact the Southern California personal injury attorneys at Neale & Fhima. Schedule a free consultation by filling out our online contact form or calling us at 949-661-1007.