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To collect damages in a civil suit, you must show you were harmed due to the actions of another person or entity. You then must show that there are recoverable damages. Once your lawyer has met these burdens of proof, it is up to the court to divide responsibility. Whether you can collect damages depends on how much responsibility you hold and where the incident occurred.
Comparative Negligence Law 101
When courts determine award amounts in civil court cases, part of their formula depends on their state's negligence laws. Some states use a doctrine of comparative negligence. Under this standard, the award amount for the plaintiff is reduced by the amount of fault attributable to them. Someone who is 30% responsible for the accident that led to their injuries can recover 70% of the damages from the responsible party or parties.
The Types of Comparative Negligence
There are different types of comparative negligence. The amount you can recover if you are harmed due to someone else's negligence depends on the type of comparative negligence used in the state where you were injured.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Under pure comparative negligence rules, plaintiffs can recover damages not attributable to their actions. Even if you are 90% responsible for your injuries, you can still collect 10% of your damages from the defendant. About one-third of states in the U.S. use a pure comparative negligence standard.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Most states use a modified comparative negligence definition in their civil laws. Depending on the state, you must show the defendant was either 50% or 51% at fault for your damages to collect. In states using a 50% standard, you can collect even if you are equally at fault. States with a 51% standard require you to show that the other party was at least primarily, or 51%, at fault to collect.
If another party's negligence harms you, it is essential that you contact an experienced attorney who can explain the negligence standards in the state where your accident occurred. Knowing which standard you must meet to collect damages can help determine how to proceed with your case.
Examples of Comparative Negligence
Auto accidents are a common source of cases in which a judge or jury must determine comparative negligence. If another driver went through a red light and hit you, but you were not paying attention to the road, a determination must be made regarding who was more at fault. You may have clear evidence that the other driver went through the red light, but how much of the damage was because you weren't alert enough?
In a pure comparative negligence standard state, if there were $100,000 in damages due to the accident and the court determines that you were 60% at fault, you are responsible for paying for 60% of the damages, or $60,000. You can recover the other $40,000 from the defendant.
In a modified comparative negligence state using a 50% or a 51% standard, you could not collect damages because you were found to be primarily at fault.
Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence
States that use a contributory negligence standard, including Virginia, set a much higher bar for you to collect damages after an accident. Under contributory negligence laws, you cannot collect even if you were only 1% at fault for your accident. This would be the case even if you have experienced a severe injury or significant property damage.
Virginia contributory negligence law dates back to the 1947 court case Baskett v. Banks. The court held that "No person is entitled to recover from another for damages which have been occasioned by his own act or his own neglect." The strict interpretation of this court ruling has made it very difficult for plaintiffs to win damages in civil cases in Virginia.
How Percentage of Fault Affects Awardable Damages
The degree of fault assigned in civil cases determines whether or not you get to collect. Because this is the case, insurance companies in Virginia will do everything they can to prove that you contributed to your damages, thus negating your ability to collect.
If you were hit by another driver who ran through a red light, but you were talking to your passenger and not watching the road, the other side will argue that you contributed to your accident. Depending on the state where your accident occurred, your awardable damages could range from no damages to the full amount.
Assuming $100,000 in damages and a determination that you were 50% at fault, you could be awarded the following amounts:
- In a contributory negligence state, you could not collect damages because your actions contributed to the accident.
- In a pure comparative negligence state, you could collect 50% of the damages, or $50,000.
- In a modified comparative negligence state with a 50% standard, you could collect 50% of the damages, or $50,000.
- In a modified comparative negligence state with a 51% standard, you could not collect damages because you were equally at fault for the accident.
Your ability to collect a damages judgment when you are harmed by someone else is dictated by the negligence standards in the state where your injuries occurred. This applies to cases of personal injury other than car accidents, such as slip and fall accidents or other incidents that occur on someone else's property.
Why You Need a Legal Representative To Fight for You
When seeking damages, you will typically be dealing with an insurance company rather than the defendant. Insurance companies are businesses that do everything they can to avoid paying claims. They use several tactics, such as delaying cases and offering lowball settlements to pay out less than you deserve. In Virginia court cases, they will try to show that you contributed to your medical, property, or other damages through your own actions to bar you from recovery.
If you've been injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, contact our experienced, committed legal team at the Commonwealth Law Group. Our attorneys are well-versed in Virginia contributory negligence law and aren't afraid to take on deep-pocketed insurance companies. We will fight to show that the other party was at fault for your injuries and help you get the compensation you deserve.
If you have been injured at work or through the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (804) 999-9999 or or use the form below to connect with our legal team. We will fight to get you the justice you deserve.