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Comparative negligence in car accident cases

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2021 | Injuries

Traditionally, courts held that a person could not collect compensation if they were partly at fault for the accident in which they were injured. This theory of “contributory negligence” led to unjust results in many cases.

For instance, a person might have been injured in an accident caused by a shockingly reckless driver, but if the court found that the injured person had been driving over the speed limit at the time of the crash, the court could find they were barred from recovering anything.

Over the years, most jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, abolished this theory of contributory negligence and replaced it with some form of a doctrine known as comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence

Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, an injured person may recover compensation for their damages, but their recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of the fault. In Massachusetts, an injured person can recover compensation so long as they were no more at fault for the accident than the other party.

In other words, when hearing a personal injury case, a Massachusetts court determines what percentage of fault each party holds for the accident. If the court finds the plaintiff was 40% at fault and the defendant was 60% at fault, the plaintiff can recover compensation, but their recovery is reduced by 40%. But if the plaintiff was 55% at fault and the defendant was 45% at fault, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation.

Know your options

Some people who have been injured in an accident may not pursue compensation as strongly as they should because they know that they were partly at fault. For instance, they may have been driving over the speed limit at the time of the crash. It’s important to know that this type of fault does not necessarily act as a bar to recovering compensation.

The damages that follow a car accident can be enormous, particularly when the person has sustained permanent or catastrophic injury. Even if their amount of recovery is reduced by some percentage, it can be absolutely crucial to the injured person and their entire family that they receive some amount of compensation. The injured and their families should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney about their options.