What is comparative negligence in a car accident?
Motor Vehicles Accidents - May 2, 2019
When one driver causes a car accident, the at-fault driver generally bears liability for the resulting damages. However, the injured driver’s conduct could lead to him or her absorbing partial fault for the accident. In Illinois, this would not bar the injured driver from recovering compensation for his or her losses, but it would reduce the amount of recovery he or she receives after winning a case. This situation is known as “comparative negligence.”
What is comparative negligence?
Illinois upholds a comparative negligence statute, meaning a plaintiff could lose a percentage of his or her car accident settlement or case award if he or she bears any fault for causing the accident. Illinois places a 50% threshold on comparative negligence. As long as a plaintiff is less than 50% at fault for an accident, the plaintiff may still recover damages. For example, if a jury decides the plaintiff is 20% at fault for a car accident, the plaintiff would lose 20% of the case award to reflect his or her fault.
The 50% threshold applies even against multiple defendants. The plaintiff’s fault may not exceed 50% of the total fault for the accident, nor may it exceed the combined fault of the defendants. The amount of fault each defendant absorbs typically informs how much each defendant will pay toward the plaintiff’s compensation.
How else can comparative negligence influence recovery?
A plaintiff bearing partial fault for a car accident can influence his or her recovery in other ways beyond comparative negligence. For example, most car accidents involve some type of insurance claim. An insurance company may argue their responsibility to offer coverage if a claimant bears partial liability for his or her claimed damages. Depending on the exact wording of the claimant’s policy, he or she may only have the ability to secure partial compensation from insurance.
Insurance companies do not stay in business by paying out on claims. They generally attempt to avoid paying out on claims, even legitimate ones, as much as possible, either by refuting elements of a claim or by challenging the claimant’s evidence. While the insurance company has the right to investigate a claim and verify its legitimacy, it also has an obligation to process and investigate all claims in good faith, regardless of the financial hit the insurance company may take after paying out on a substantiated claim
Proving fault in a car accident
Illinois follows a fault-based system for handling car accident claims, meaning a claimant must prove fault for an accident before receiving any compensation. Some drivers may purchase auto insurance coverage that allows for personal injury protection or other types of coverage that apply regardless of fault, but any driver who only holds the bare minimum of liability coverage could face significant legal action if his or her insurance cannot fully pay for an injured driver’s damages. If an at-fault driver does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for an injured driver’s losses, he or she will likely face legal action from the injured driver.
Proving fault generally requires obtaining physical evidence and/or witness statements from the accident scene. Traffic camera data, vehicle computer crash records, cell phone records, and eyewitness accounts of the event all come into play when establishing fault for a car accident. The plaintiff in a car accident injury claim must identify the defendant, prove he or she breached his or her duty of care in such a way that it caused the accident in question, and provide evidence that shows the full extent of his or her losses. The plaintiff should remember that the defendant’s attorney will look for any and all evidence that establishes comparative negligence, and any verifiable evidence of comparative negligence will diminish the plaintiff’s recovery.