When you're involved in an accident, determining who's at fault is not always black and white. This is where the concept of comparative negligence comes into play. Especially in states like Pennsylvania, understanding this concept can be crucial for personal injury claims. Today, we'll break down this legal term with the help of the esteemed law firm, “van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin”.
Definition of Comparative Negligence
In Pennsylvania, comparative negligence (or "modified comparative negligence") is a legal principle that comes into play when more than one party is at fault in an accident. This principle affects how damages are awarded in personal injury cases. Here's a more detailed explanation:
Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania
- Basic Principle: Under the comparative negligence doctrine, a plaintiff's (the injured party) compensation is reduced by the percentage they are found to be at fault for the accident. For instance, if a plaintiff was found to be 20% responsible for an accident and was awarded $100,000 in damages, they would receive $80,000 after the 20% reduction.
- 50% Rule: Pennsylvania operates under a "modified" comparative negligence system. This means that if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident, they are barred from recovering any damages. In other words, in order to recover, the injured party must be 50% or less at fault.
- Jury's Role: It's typically up to a jury to decide the percentage of fault assigned to each party. After hearing all the evidence, the jury will allocate a percentage of fault to both the plaintiff and defendant. The plaintiff's compensation will then be adjusted accordingly.
It's essential to note that these rules are especially relevant in cases where both parties contributed to the accident, even if one party was clearly more at fault than the other. The doctrine ensures that plaintiffs take responsibility for their share of the negligence, while still holding other negligent parties accountable.
How New Jersey Handles Comparative Negligence
New Jersey, like many states, has adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence to determine damages in personal injury cases where both parties might share some degree of fault. The approach taken by New Jersey is known as "modified comparative negligence." Here's a breakdown of how it works in the Garden State:
- Basic Principle: Similar to other states with comparative negligence systems, if both the plaintiff (the injured party) and the defendant (the person being sued) share some blame for the accident, the plaintiff's potential compensation is reduced by the percentage they are found to be at fault. For example, if a plaintiff has been determined to be 20% at fault for an accident and they were to receive $100,000 in damages, they would instead receive $80,000, reflecting a 20% reduction.
- 51% Rule: New Jersey's "modified" comparative negligence system stipulates that a plaintiff cannot recover any damages if they are found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident. In simpler terms, if you are more at fault than the other party involved, you cannot collect damages. But, if you're 50% or less at fault, you can still recover damages, although they will be reduced by your degree of fault.
- Role of the Jury: In cases that go to trial, it's typically the jury's responsibility to determine the percentage of fault assigned to each party after hearing all the evidence. Once the fault percentages are established, the awarded compensation is adjusted accordingly.
- Joint and Several Liability Adjustment: Historically, New Jersey followed the "joint and several liability" rule, which could make one defendant fully financially responsible if other liable parties couldn't pay. However, New Jersey has since modified this approach. Now, a defendant who is found less than 60% at fault is only responsible for their proportional share of the plaintiff's non-economic losses, like pain and suffering. This change can significantly impact the strategy and outcomes of personal injury claims with multiple defendants.
- Effect on Insurance Claims: New Jersey's comparative negligence system also extends to insurance claims. Insurance adjusters will often assess the degree of fault when determining how much they are willing to pay on a claim.
Understanding New Jersey's comparative negligence rules is crucial when pursuing a personal injury claim in the state. Whether negotiating with an insurance company or preparing for trial, awareness of these nuances ensures that plaintiffs approach their cases with realistic expectations and a solid strategy.
Case Studies and Real-Life Scenarios
To illustrate the nuances of comparative negligence, let’s look at a couple of case studies, drawing from the vast experience of “van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin”.
Case Study 1: Imagine a car accident where one driver was speeding, but the other driver ran a stop sign. The court might determine that the driver who was speeding was 40% at fault for the accident, while the driver who ran the stop sign was 60% at fault. If the speeding driver had damages of $100,000, they might only recover $60,000 due to their comparative negligence.
Case Study 2: In a slip and fall case at a store, perhaps a customer was wearing extremely slippery shoes, but the store also had a wet floor with no warning sign. The court could find the customer 25% at fault for the fall and the store 75% responsible. If the customer’s damages amounted to $50,000, they would receive $37,500 after the reduction for their fault.
What This Means for Your Claim
If you're pursuing a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania, understanding the concept of comparative negligence is crucial. Pennsylvania employs a modified comparative negligence system similar to New Jersey. This means if you're more than 50% at fault for your injuries, you cannot recover damages. But if you're 50% or less at fault, you can recover, with your compensation reduced by your degree of fault.
To maximize your chances of a favorable verdict and ensure your damages are accurately assessed, it's imperative to have experienced legal representation. Knowledgeable attorneys can help present the facts of your case in the best possible light and advocate for the least amount of fault to be assigned to you.
Contact an Experienced Slip and Fall Accident Lawyer at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today
Comparative negligence adds a layer of complexity to personal injury claims. It emphasizes the importance of understanding both the legal landscape and the specifics of your case. If you've been injured and believe another party bears some or all of the responsibility, it's vital to consult with legal experts who can guide you through the intricacies of the law.
If you or someone you know has been affected and needs assistance in Pennsylvania, the experienced team at “van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin” is here to help. With our deep understanding of comparative negligence and its implications, we'll work diligently to secure the best possible outcome for your case.
Don’t navigate the complexities of comparative negligence alone. Contact "van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin" today for a free consultation and let our expertise work for you.