What if I Am Partly to Blame for My Car Accident?

If you are partly to blame for your accident, you may still receive compensation for your damages. Many states have comparative negligence statutes that account for circumstances just like yours.

While rules about comparative negligence vary from state to state, many states adopt a common approach. In these states, so long as you have 49 percent or less of the share of fault for an accident, you can pursue compensation for your accident-related losses with the help of a skilled car accident lawyer.

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Your State’s Statutes Are Critical in Determining If You Can Receive Compensation

Comparative negligence statutes exist in many states, but not all of them. If your state adopts a comparative negligence statute, you can collect compensation equivalent to the other party’s share of fault for the accident.

What if I Am Partly to Blame for My Car Accident

Here’s an example illustrating how comparative negligence statutes generally work:

  • A motorist is speeding, driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit on the highway.
  • As they approach the vehicle in front of them and prepare to pass, the motorist in front stops suddenly for no apparent reason.
  • The speeding motorist swerves to avoid striking the vehicle in front but clips the side of the vehicle’s rear bumper.

In this case, the lawyer for the speeding motorist might argue that the collision might not have happened if the other motorist did not brake suddenly. Depending on how experts assess liability, they may deem the speeding motorist partially responsible for the collision.

Contributory Negligence Statutes Bar Any Liable Party from Suing for Damages

In states that use a contributory negligence framework, someone cannot seek compensation from another party if they contributed to an accident. Even if authorities deemed you responsible for 1 percent of an accident, you cannot file a lawsuit against the party who was 99 percent responsible for the accident.

Some States Have a Unique Twist on Contributory Negligence or Comparative Negligence

If you review a list detailing how each state handles car accident cases, you’ll see contributory negligence and comparative fault. You will also see terms like modified comparative negligence and modified comparative fault.

Each state sets the rules for handling fault and liability in car accident cases.

The list of approaches includes:

  • Pure comparative negligence
  • Pure comparative fault
  • Pure contributory negligence
  • Modified comparative negligence

Rather than getting too deep into the details of each specific statute type, speak with an attorney who handles car accident cases in your area. They can explain the statutes and rules for shared-fault car accidents in your city and state.

Laws Related to Fault, Liability, and Car Accidents Are Always Changing

States regularly change their laws regarding how accident victims can (or can’t) seek compensation when multiple parties share fault.

Laws change because:

  • States realize there is a specific issue in their law that requires a change
  • States want to reduce the amount of car accident-related lawsuits
  • Lawmakers face pressure from specific groups to alter the law

For example, in 2023, Florida adopted a modified comparative negligence system after years of using a pure comparative negligence framework. The new framework mandates that someone can only seek compensation from another liable party if the plaintiff is responsible for 50 percent or less of the accident.

Car accident lawyers pay close attention to fault-related laws and changes to those laws. Such statutory changes have immense ramifications for attorneys and their clients.

Who Determines Fault for a Car Accident?

Insurance companies are generally the first to determine fault for a car accident. However, if you disagree with an insurer’s assessment of fault, you may hire a lawyer to issue a legal challenge to the insurer’s ruling.

Your attorney and the insurance company may refer the matter of fault to arbitration, in which case a neutral third party may determine who is at fault for the accident, what amount of compensation you should receive, and who should pay that compensation.

If your attorney pursues a lawsuit, they may take your case to court. In this case, a jury will review evidence and testimony and determine who is at fault for the car accident. The jury also generally awards damages to any deserving party.

Evidence That Can Help Determine Fault for a Car Accident

Whether a car accident lawyer, insurance company, arbitrator, judge, or jury is determining the share of fault for an accident, there are many resources they can rely on.

One may assess liability by:

  • Reviewing the police report: The police report documenting the accident may contain direct or implied statements about who is at fault for the accident. The officer’s description of the accident may alone speak to a fault.
  • Interviewing witnesses: Witnesses are often neutral third parties who offer valuable perspectives on how or why an accident happened. A witness may indicate who was at fault (or most at fault) by describing how the accident occurred. A witness may also testify to events before or after the accident, such as seeing a motorist drinking before driving or hearing a motorist admit to causing the accident.
  • Getting expert opinions about fault: Experts may testify about who they believe caused the car accident. An expert may also reconstruct a collision using digital or physical means, which establish that someone else caused the collision.
  • Obtaining video footage of the accident: In most cases, video footage is among the most substantial evidence you can have in a car accident case. The footage may show how the accident happened, which may help prove who is most at fault.
  • Reviewing statements from those involved in the accident: The motorists involved in the collision may make statements after the accident, perhaps to the other motorist, bystanders, a police officer, or insurance representatives. If a motorist admits to behaviors that caused the accident, those statements may help determine fault.
  • Considering any other evidence that speaks to a fault: If there is any other evidence that helps establish who is at fault for the accident, insurance companies, lawyers, and other parties will consider that evidence.

Each accident has a unique story, and the fault is a crucial piece of the story. Your attorney will retell the story of your accident, highlighting the parties most responsible.

Causes of Car Accidents

Car accidents have many causes, and fault stems directly from the cause of each collision. Some of the parties who cause car accidents include:

Motor Vehicle Drivers

Motorists are the most common cause of car accidents and may cause a collision by:

  • Running red lights
  • Running stop signs or yield signs
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Failing to use turn signals
  • Changing lanes or braking abruptly
  • Driving while distracted
  • Driving while Engaging in any other dangerous driving acts

If a motorist caused your accident, their insurer may cover your damages, or they may be personally liable for your damages.

Motor Vehicle Manufacturers

When motor vehicle manufacturers make defective products, fail to issue necessary warning labels, or contribute to accidents in any other way, they must pay for damages that result from their negligence.

Municipalities

When dangerous road conditions cause (or contribute) to an accident, the municipality responsible for those road conditions may have to pay victims’ damages.

A municipality is generally responsible for:

  • Placing work crews in dangerous positions
  • Failing to repair roads with potholes, cracks, uneven pavement, or other defects that can cause an accident
  • Downed or absent signage (such as a stop sign)
  • Defective traffic signals
  • Barriers placed too close to the roadway
  • Any other road conditions that contribute to an accident

Suing a municipality comes with unique rules and deadlines, so don’t wait to hire a car accident attorney.

Pedestrians

If a pedestrian contributes to an accident, they may be liable for victims’ damages. For example, a pedestrian who jaywalks and causes a motorist to swerve and strike another vehicle may be solely responsible for the collision.

Other parties can be liable for accidents, especially knowing multiple parties can be at fault for a car accident. For example, an establishment that overserves a drunk driver may share liability with the driver for any resulting accident.

Steps to Take After a Car Accident

Some of the most valuable advice to follow after a car accident includes:

  • Wait to make any on-the-record statements: Anything you say to insurance representatives, others involved in your accident, or bystanders can go against you in the claims or legal processes. Refrain from speaking to those involved in your accident, and hire a car accident lawyer before making any recorded statements.
  • Rely on a lawyer: Car accident lawyers represent crash victims day in and day out. You cannot put a value on such an experience. If you want to present the strongest case for compensation, you’ll consider hiring a car accident attorney as soon as possible.
  • Get as much medical care as you need: You must seek medical treatment after a car accident. You cannot seek compensation for injuries if you do not prove your injuries, and you cannot prove your injuries without going to the doctor.

Once you hire an attorney, they can guide you through the claims and legal processes. Your attorney can even refer you to medical providers, get copies of all case-related medical documents, and ensure you’re recovering.

How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Fight for Your Financial Recovery

A car accident lawyer will take your case out of your hands, ensuring your focus remains on your recovery.

Your lawyer’s duties will include:

  • Protecting your rights, which starts with managing all communications with insurance companies
  • Assisting you in making any record statements, including written statements
  • Obtaining any evidence that benefits your car accident case
  • Calculating the value of your accident-related damages
  • Securing all available documentation of your damages
  • Negotiating a settlement
  • Taking your case to trial, if necessary

Most of these steps (aside from trial) are necessary in most car accident cases. However, lawyers customize their services and strategies to suit each case and client.

What if I Decide Not to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?

You’ll handle the above-listed responsibilities independently if you do not hire a car accident lawyer. You may file a weak insurance claim or lawsuit if you skip any of those steps (perhaps because you lack time, energy, or resources).

For most car accident victims, filing a lawsuit is not a realistic expectation—unless they have a lawyer leading their case. If you do not have the credible threat of filing a lawsuit, an insurance company may not extend a fair settlement offer.

If you insist on leading your case, you may also:

  • Worsen your injuries due to the physical stress of leading your case
  • Experience severe psychological distress due to the cognitive demands of your case
  • Have difficulty putting together a winning claim
  • Suffer due to your inexperience in negotiations and other aspects of a claim or lawsuit

It’s praiseworthy to accept help from a car accident lawyer.

What Damages Should I Expect From a Car Accident Claim or Lawsuit?

Damages for car accident victims often include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Diminished earning power
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental health treatment costs
  • Temporary transportation costs

You should hire a lawyer if you lost a loved one in a car accident. That lawyer will speak with you about the harm you’ve suffered and fight for a fair financial recovery. This can be true even if someone points part of the blame at your deceased family member.

Hire Your Car Accident Attorney as Soon as Possible

Tatiana Boohoff - Attorney for car accident in Tampa
Tatiana Boohoff, Tampa Car Accident Lawyer

If you wait too long to hire a lawyer, you may miss the filing deadline for your case. Hire a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer as soon as you can, as you may need significant compensation to cover your losses—compensation that no insurance company will provide without a fight.

September 9, 2023
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