At-Fault vs Not At-Fault

When an accident occurs, the parties’ lawyers must determine and prove who was at fault or what the relative percentages of fault of the parties are.  The rights and remedies of the injured victim will depend upon whether or not he or she was at fault in the accident.  If you have ever been involved in an accident, you probably have heard your auto insurance agent, the police, or a personal injury lawyer refer to the accident as “at fault” or “not at fault.”  An at-fault accident means that you were the person whose carelessness or negligence caused the accident; the accident was your fault.  Hence the reason for referring to the accident as an “at fault” accident.  Not at-fault means that you were not the cause of the accident; the accident was not your fault.  If you were totally at fault, then it would not make sense for you to sue the other person for causing your injuries since the accident was your fault.  If the other person was totally at fault, your personal injury attorney will sue them and is likely to win your case.  But what if you were partly at fault and the other party was partly at fault.


In California, even if you were partly at fault, you can still bring a claim for damages to obtain monetary compensation for your injuries.  This is by reason of the doctrine of comparative negligence, also called comparative fault.  Under the rule of comparative fault, even if you were partly at-fault, you can still obtain financial damages against/from the party who caused your injuries.  The rule of comparative negligence is based on a public policy in California that a negligent party who was partly at-fault for your injuries should not be let off the hook simply because you also were partly negligence.  Under the rule of comparative fault, the Court will assign a percentage of fault to you and your total damages will be reduced accordingly.


If you were partly at-fault and the other party was partly at-fault, your claim may be more difficult to prove.  But if you can prove that the other party was partly at-fault, you can hold them accountable for your injuries or loss, subject to your damages being reduced by the percentage of fault that is attributed to you.  For example, lets say that you have suffered financial damages of $200,000, including medical bills and a monetary figure determined to compensate you for your pain and suffering.  Also, lets say that the Court determines that you were 50% at-fault and the other party was 50% at-fault.  In that case, you will be entitled to recover financial damages in the amount of $100,000 (50% of $200,000).


California follows a pure comparative fault rule.  This means that you can recover financial damages as long as the other person was at least partially at fault in causing the accident or your personal injuries.   You can recover damages even if you were mostly at-fault.  For example, lets say you have $200,000 in damages and you were 90% at-fault.  Your damages would be reduced by 90% and you would be entitled to $20,000, even though you were 90% at-fault for causing your own injuries.  The other party, who was 10% at-fault, would be responsible for 10% of your damages, hence the reason you would be entitled to recovery $20,000.


Some states other than California follow a different rule, in which if you were more than 50% percent at-fault for causing your injuries you cannot sue and recover damages against the other person who was partly at-fault.  If you live in a state other than California and you were partly at-fault for your own injuries, your personal injury attorney can explain the rules of your state and determine whether you have a right to bring a claim for your injuries or loss.