What is Comparative Negligence? Understanding your Rights

Doug Mann

Say you were involved in a car accident. You were stopped at a light and someone rear-ended you because they weren’t paying attention. You suffered injuries that required medical care and your car was damaged, which means you’re facing some hefty bills. Of course, you shouldn’t have to pay the bills if the accident wasn’t your fault. The law agrees – the other person or their insurance should cover the costs, if they are at fault.

what is comparative negligence?
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Table of Contents
  1. What Is Comparative Negligence?
  2. Comparative Negligence And Insurance
  3. Insurance companies use comparative negligence to reduce awards
  4. When Are You Comparatively Negligent?
  5. Have You Been In An Accident?

But what if both sides were a little bit at fault? This is where the legal concept of comparative negligence comes into play.

Let’s go back to our fact pattern from above. The other party may argue that the car accident was partially your fault. If that’s the case, Ohio’s comparative negligence law comes into play to determine whether that’s true and how it will affect the compensation you’re entitled to.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is a way for the law to recognize that accidents aren’t always black and white. Sometimes, both parties did something wrong or failed to do something right. In those cases, the law assigns a portion of blame to each party and doles out compensation accordingly.

The state of Ohio uses the “modified comparative negligence rule.”

Under this rule, the jury decides how much each party is to blame. Then, your compensation is limited by how much of the accident was judged to be your fault.

Imagine that in our car crash example from above, one of your brake lights was out and that made it harder for the other car to see you. At trial, the jury decides that you’re 10% at fault and the other driver is 90% at fault since the accident might not have occurred if you had had working lights. Now, let’s say the total cost of the accident (medical care, car repairs, etc.) was $5,000. Under this rule, you are entitled to just 90% of that amount – $4,500 – and you’ll have to cover the other 10% yourself.

If the jury finds that you’re more than 50% responsible for the accident, you can’t recover any compensation at all.

Comparative Negligence And Insurance

While the comparative negligence law applies when your case goes to trial, it will also impact your settlement options with the other party’s insurance company. They’ll decide how much of a settlement to offer you based on what you’re likely to win at trial. For example, they may offer you close to the full cost of your expenses if their client was clearly completely at fault – speeding down the wrong side of the road, for example.

If the insurance company believes that you were partially at fault, they’ll adjust their settlement offer downward accordingly. They may believe that you were 20% at fault and offer you 80% of your costs, for example. You can negotiate with the insurance company through the settlement process and try to convince them that a jury would attribute less of the fault to you. If that works, they may offer you more money.

Insurance companies use comparative negligence to reduce awards

Insurance companies regularly try to use comparative negligence to decrease the amount that they have to pay you because they’re hoping that you don’t understand the law. They don’t want to pay a penny more than the bare minimum they can get away with and they have teams of lawyers and adjusters trained to convince you that you won’t be able to collect your full costs in a lawsuit. If you’re not comfortable with the amount they’re offering you, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney.

An experienced lawyer can help you get a sense of what you would actually be able to win at trial. They can also help you negotiate with the insurance company using the legal theories that will actually be relevant in court. You may not have that specialized knowledge yourself, which makes it harder for you to convince the insurance company that they should pay you more. In general, it’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney before accepting a settlement – once you settle, you lose the right to ask for more money later on.

When Are You Comparatively Negligent?

When do your actions qualify as comparatively negligent?

An expert tip from Doug Mann

“Negligence” is a technical legal term that means you failed to take reasonable precautions against something bad happening when you could have foreseen that the bad thing was possible. The standard is what a hypothetical reasonable person would do – not what you personally think is reasonable.

In the context of a personal injury case, the jury will decide whether your actions were negligent. Say you were involved in an accident where the other driver ran a red light, but you were going 5 miles over the speed limit. You wouldn’t have been in the accident if you had been going the speed limit, but the other driver made a much more serious mistake. The jury will have to decide whether a reasonable person would drive 5 over in that circumstance – it could go either way. Now imagine that you were hit because the other driver ran a red light, but you weren’t watching the road because you turned to grab something from the back seat. That’s probably a clearer case for comparative negligence since a jury is likely to decide that a reasonable person wouldn’t take their eyes off the road.

Have You Been In An Accident?

Sometimes accidents are cut-and-dry cases of one party doing something dangerous, wrong, or illegal. Sometimes, they’re more complicated. If you’ve been injured and are seeking compensation through insurance or a lawsuit, the other party is going to try to use comparative negligence law to claim that you were partially at fault to decrease the amount of compensation they have to pay you. Insurance companies in particular will try to convince you that you’d only be able to collect a portion of the actual costs of an accident.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation and consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys to learn about your claim and your options for getting the compensation you deserve.

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