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How Does Contributory and Comparative Negligence Affect My Car Accident Lawsuit?

Law Offices of Stephen D. Walsh July 3, 2023

Anyone who has experienced an auto accident knows how quickly things can spiral out of control. With any luck, all parties involved can walk away from such an event unharmed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the event an auto accident leads to injury, it’s crucial to determine who is at fault and the level of culpability they contributed to the accident.

Comparative fault and contributory negligence are models for determining who bears responsibility for an auto accident. This is central to car accident lawsuits as there is often no clear answer. Oftentimes more than one person may have acted with negligence. The level of negligence will determine whether or not and how much a plaintiff may recover in damages.

Negligence is generally accepted as a failure to employ reasonable care. For instance, not paying attention to the road or texting on your mobile device while driving.

How damages are awarded differ by state and are determined by contributory or comparative negligence. The rule of contributory negligence states an injured party may not collect damages following a car accident if they were partially to blame for the accident. On the other hand, comparative negligence awards damages based on each party’s share of the fault.

Massachusetts law follows modified comparative negligence or the 51% rule. This rule stipulates that parties who are more at fault than any other party, that is 51% or more at fault, for the accident are barred from collecting damages in a car accident lawsuit. This law also determines how much a plaintiff can recover for damages. A party who is found to be 50% or less at fault can be awarded damages. The damages are reduced proportionally by the amount of fault.

Let’s review a few examples.

Let’s say there is a collision between Driver A and Driver B. If the collision is caused by Driver A making an illegal turn as Driver B runs a red light, both parties may be found to be equally at fault. In this case, neither party is more than 50% at fault and therefore may potentially collect damages.

In another example, let’s say that during a trial, jurors find Drive A to be 20% liable and Drive B 80% liable. This would mean driver B is more than 51% at fault and may not collect damages. However, even though Driver A can collect damages, the award will be reduced by 20% based on Driver A’s comparative fault.

Joint and Several Liability

Additionally, joint and several liability is tied to the concept of comparative fault. As such, each party found jointly and severally liable for an act of negligence is independently liable.

In the event an injured party wins a judgment against several parties collectively, the full value of that judgment can be collected from any one of them. The defendant then may go after the other parties to repay their share.

To discuss options regarding your auto accident lawsuit, contact our office today.