The Impact of Comparative Negligence on Personal Injury Cases

If you have been in an accident or suffered a social wrong, personal injury law is there to allow you to recover monetary compensation. But sometimes, you can be partially responsible for what occurred, which is what the law calls comparative negligence.

In California, comparative negligence lowers the damages you might receive in a personal injury claim but does not negate them entirely. To ensure you don’t claim responsibility too early and to advise you on how to build your case, you can rely on the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, starting with this guide.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence looks at the plaintiff’s and defendant’s responsibilities, whether they breached a legal duty or failed to follow civic expectations, and if that makes them partially responsible for the accident and at which percentage. 

Contributory negligence, however, takes the same facts but makes it so that if the plaintiff is even 1% responsible, they cannot recover any damages. California stopped following contributory negligence law in 1975.

To determine the division of fault, both parties will try to prove the other was negligent. The plaintiff needs to prove the defendant’s duty of care, the defendant’s breach of that duty, actual causation, proximate causation, and actual damages. As for the defendant, they need to prove that the plaintiff was negligent and that it was significant in causing their harm. 

In California, there is a nuance between injuring someone by failing to act with reasonable caution, which is considered ordinary neglect, and causing an injury through extreme disregard, which is defined as gross negligence. 

When it comes to defective products or dog bites in California, the defendant is considered liable even if they weren’t found negligent. This doctrine is called strict liability. 

In the case of car accidents, negligence per se can come into play. Evidence code 669 defines negligence per se as failing to exercise due care by violating a law, and driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol would be considered negligence per se. 

Comparative Negligence in Action

In a car accident, the driver would be considered negligent for speeding, but with comparative negligence, the plaintiff could be regarded as partly at fault for not wearing their seatbelt. 

According to section 1714(a) of the California Civil Code, you are both responsible for your willful acts, your actions, like speeding and your lack of action and your ‘’want of ordinary care or skill’’ like not putting on your seatbelt. Moreover, not wearing a seatbelt violates the California Motor Vehicle Safety Act. In this case, the jury could find that the seatbelt would have made the injuries less severe, determining that the plaintiff was 25% at fault. 

If you slip and fall in a grocery store, failure to warn customers of a slipping risk like wet floors would be considered negligent, but if they did put a sign and you failed to heed its warning, you would share the fault. 

If a defective product injured you, you’re not expected to prove the defendant was negligent but instead that you used the product in a ‘’reasonably foreseeable’’ way. This was the case in 2017 in Trejo vs Johnson & Johnson regarding an ibuprofen medication causing a skin rash. In California, strict liability applies to product manufacturers for design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects.

As for dog bites, if they occurred in a public place (or private location you were allowed to be) and you did not provoke the dog, the dog owner is considered strictly liable. Landlords are also considered strictly liable since Becker v. IRM Corp in 1985 when the plaintiff was injured after slipping and falling against a shower door made of untempered glass that broke and severely lacerated his arm.

In all these instances, the negligence of the defendant or plaintiff has to be proven with enough receivable evidence. An experienced lawyer can help you build a strong case.

Impact on Personal Injury Claims

There is no law providing a specific formula to determine the amount of damages you’re owed. However, your lawyer might be able to give you an estimate based on special damages, medical damages, and general damages. 

Special damages include the cost of repair or replacement of damaged property, as well as lost wages s sick or vacation time used due to your injury. Medical damages include all healthcare expenses linked to the injury, from ambulance rides and doctor visits to medications. As for general damages, you might know them as ‘’pain and suffering.’’ They compensate for the severity of the injury, the amount of pain you suffered, and the length of your recovery.

This compensation will be reduced by the portion of fault you bear in your injury. If you are found 25% at fault for your injuries, then your damages will be lessened by 25%. If these damages were $100,000, you would then only receive $25,000. This becomes more complicated if there are more than two people involved in the case, like a driving accident with several drivers. 

With comparative negligence, you will always receive some damages, and you won’t be barred entirely from what you’re entitled to, as would be the case with contributory negligence. As for the defendant, they are not absolved of liability; even if you are found partially at fault, they might simply be required to pay less than the entire damages calculated by the judge or jury.

Build a Strong Case

As you can see, comparative negligence reduces the amount of damages received in personal injury cases but also ensures that you will always receive some of the damages you’re entitled to. 

California law contains many nuances on comparative negligence, like strict liability, gross negligence, or negligence per se. They all call for different types of evidence and different ways to build your case. The best way to navigate these nuances is to rely on the expertise of lawyers experienced in Californian tort law. To discuss your personal injury claim and better understand how negligence might affect your case, contact the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, for your initial consultation.

Ready To Get Started? >>

Helping victims of Medical Malpractice in Los Angeles find calmer waters for over 30 years.

"*" indicates required fields

Please help us understand a little bit more about your case by providing the following information (if not provided in your email):

Please state the date you believe negligence occurred. In a death case, please provide the date of death.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Real Help.
    Right Now.