In our blog we will try to provide you with general information regarding car accidents, motorcycle crashes, and personal injury cases, as well as updates in important cases and statutes dealing with family law in New Hampshire. This is not to be construed as legal advice. Every case is unique and small facts can make a difference.
Sharing Blame In Personal Injury Cases: Contributory vs. Comparative Fault
The outcome of a personal injury claim hinges upon the question: Who was at fault in the incident or accident that caused the harm? Often times, we will find that the answer is not as clear as we would like for it to be. What if the victim shares some level of blame of fault for the accident? How does the affect the outcome of a plaintiff’s case?
Defining Fault In a Legal Context
Within a legal context, fault is a loaded term. The word is defined as a person or party who is responsible for causing harm – generally through careless actions that meet the definition of negligence. In such instances, the responsible party must pay monetary compensation for all sustained injuries and other related losses incurred from the accident. If a personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, then the end result can be a monetary reward that amounts to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
What If the Blame Is Shared Among Multiple Parties?
One single person will not always be at fault in an accident. A party may have been negligent, but a second party might have been as well. What happens in this particular scenario? The answer will be crucial to a case’s outcome.
Contributory vs. Comparative Fault Laws
In shared fault scenarios with a personal injury claim, each state possesses a variation of one of two legal laws: contributory negligence or comparative negligence. The state of New Hampshire follows a modified comparative negligence law; however, it can be beneficial to know the differences between each of the two legal rules.
The law of contributory negligence states that if a victim contributes responsibility towards their own injury, then they cannot legally hold another individual or party responsible for it. Under a pure contributory negligence system, even if a victim suffers hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, but is a mere 1% at fault in their accident, then monetary compensation cannot be obtained from the individual or party who is responsible for the other 99% fault. In essence, if a plaintiff is determined to be have been the least bit negligent, then they will receive nothing. Although this rule might seem harsh, it is still enacted by a handful of different states.
Contributory negligence and comparative fault are two different beasts of burden. Under the law of comparative negligence, the initial assessment incorporates the amount of fault that belongs to each party for causing the injury or accident.
For example, let’s say an automobile accident occurs after Motorist #1 runs a red light and Motorist #2 turns left too quickly immediately before an accident. Each party’s actions are considered negligent, and each individual contributed to the cause of the accident. However, the jury or judge who acts as a factfinder in this case must what percentage of fault each party contributed towards the accident. For instance, Motorist #1 who ran the red light is determined to be primarily responsible party, and Motorist #2 is determined to have contributed slightly just slightly to the accident’s cause. Motorist #1 may be determined to be 70% at fault in the accident, and Motorist #2 who turned illegally is deemed 30% responsible.
In such a scenario, under a pure comparative fault system, each motorist would collect monetary damages that are equal to the percentage of fault that belongs to the other party. For example, if Motorist #2 incurred $100,000.00 in damages, then he or she could collect $70,000.00 in damages from Motorist #1 who ran the red light. If Motorist #2 similarly suffered $100,000.00 in damages, then he or she could only recover 30% of their costs from Motorist #1, which would equate to approximately $30,000.00.
Modified Comparative Fault vs. Pure Comparative Fault
While a handful of states follow the pure comparative negligence law, and other states choose to follow a specific cut off point when determining exactly how much an injured victim can possess and still collect damages from a secondary at fault party. Such states, including New Hampshire, that have established this dividing line are called “modified comparative fault states” because they have modified traditional pure comparative fault laws.
For states that elect to follow a modified comparative negligence rule, an injured party can collect monetary compensation from other parties who share responsibility in an accident if, and only if, the blame shares less than 50% culpability for the incident or accident that led to injury.
Proving Fault Through Negligence
The greater percentage of personal injury claims arise due to one or more parties acting in a negligent manner. Within a legal context, negligence is defined as conduct that 1) causes harm to a plaintiff or victim, and 2) does not meet the standard of care that is expected of a reasonable individual. The legal elements that must be met in order to prove negligence in the state of New Hampshire include:
§ Duty. In each successful personal injury claim, the defendant must owe the plaintiff a legal duty.
§ Breach. The plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant breached a legal duty.
§ Causation. The defendant’s actions must be the direct cause of the victim’s injuries or harm.
§ Damages. The plaintiff must have suffered actual damages, generally in a monetary form, that were incurred as a direct result of the accident or incident.
Hiring a New Hampshire Personal Injury Attorney
New Hampshire’s laws surrounding personal injury claims are complex. Establishing fault itself is difficult enough, but when fault or negligence is shared among multiple parties, a personal injury claim becomes even more complex. This is why you need to have an experienced NH personal injury lawyer representing your claim.
For a free consultation regarding you case, please contact our law firm today. Each of our personal injury attorneys will work diligently to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you receive the monetary compensation to which you are entitled.
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This site does not constitute legal advice. An attorney client relationship is formed only after an agreement is entered into between an Attorney of Liberty Legal and a client is reached. Past results do not guarantee future results.
Disclaimer: Some cases are referred to other law firms with consent of client.
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