How California’s Comparative Negligence Law Helps Accident Victims Recover for Their Injuries

school bus

Photo credit:
Jean Faucett

Many California car accidents are primarily caused by the negligence of one motorist. However, it is very common in accidents involving multiple defendants, for responsibility to rest with several parties. Under California car accident law, anyone injured in an accident can pursue a claim against any other party they believe to be responsible for their injuries, even if the accident victim is partially at fault. This is referred to as comparative negligence.

States across the country vary in how they determine which accident victims can recover for their injuries. Below are the most common types of laws:

  • Contributory negligence: This doctrine completely bars recovery for any accident victim who is found to be even the slightest amount at fault. Very few jurisdictions apply a contributory negligence analysis.
  • Modified comparative fault: Under a modified comparative fault analysis, an accident victim can recover for their injuries even if they share in the responsibility for causing the accident. However, only accident victims who are less than 49% or 50% at fault (depending on the jurisdiction) can benefit from this rule.
  • Pure comparative fault: Accident victims can pursue a claim against other parties they believe are responsible for their injuries, regardless of the accident victim’s own percentage of fault.

California is a “pure comparative negligence” state, meaning that there is no bar to recovery regardless of the plaintiff’s role in causing the accident. However, the court hearing the case will reduce a plaintiff’s damages award by their own percent of fault. For example, if a plaintiff suffers $500,000 in damages but is found to have been 40% at fault for causing the accident, the plaintiff will only be able to recover $300,000 ($500,000 less 40%).

A recent case arising out of a California bus accident illustrates how courts apply the comparative negligence doctrine. According to the court’s opinion, a young boy rode his bike into an intersection without stopping. As the boy entered the intersection, he was struck by a bus. The bus had just come to a stop and was entering the intersection as it hit the boy.

The parents of the boy presented evidence suggesting that the bus driver was under the influence of prescription medication at the time of the accident. However, it was not conclusively established that the driver was impaired. At the end of the trial, the jury found the boy to be 80% at fault, and awarded the boy’s parents just $250,000. The boy’s parents, not satisfied with the result, unsuccessfully appealed.

While the damages award may have been less than the boy’s family wanted, it is important to note that under any of the other methods of apportioning liability the family would not have been entitled to any recovery.

Have You Been Injured in a California Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a California car accident, the dedicated injury lawyers at the Neumann Law Group can help. Attorney Kelly Neumann has assembled a skilled team of passionate advocates who work tirelessly on behalf of their clients. The Neumann Law Group represents clients in all types of injury claims, including car accidents, slip-and-falls, and incidents of medical malpractice. To learn more, call 800-525-6386 to schedule a free consultation today.

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