When it comes to filing lawsuits, it’s pretty easy to get confused about which laws apply and how they affect you. However, some laws are much more important than others, which means that you should be aware about these crucial laws if you have any intention of making a claim or filing a lawsuit now or in the future. Here is an examination of one legal concept that is applicable in every state in one form or another: comparative negligence.
What is comparative negligence?
In short, comparative negligence deals with the responsibility of a plaintiff in a lawsuit. If the plaintiff was partially responsible for the damages that they are suing for, then comparative negligence provides the defense with a way to reduce those damages or even eliminate them entirely.
However, not every state treats comparative negligence the same way. Some have laws that favor the plaintiff, while others have laws that favor the defendant.
How can comparative negligence laws favor the plaintiff?
In states where comparative negligence favors the plaintiff such as in Florida, you will be dealing with pure comparative negligence. Simply put, pure comparative negligence will reduce damages proportionally to the level of responsibility that can be placed on the plaintiff. If there is evidence that suggests that the plaintiff was 15% responsible for their injuries (if this is a personal injury lawsuit), then they may only get 85% of the money that they initially asked for.
The main reason why this version favors the plaintiff is that the plaintiff can potentially recover some money even if they were 99% responsible. While this exact scenario is quite unlikely to happen in the real world, there are many cases where plaintiffs recover some money even after being found to be 60%, 70%, or even 80% responsible for their injuries.
To contrast, states that side with the defendant/negligent party practice what is called contributory negligence. Under contributory negligence, the plaintiff may not recover damages if they are found to have born any responsibility at all. Even if they were only 1% responsible, they might not be able to claim any damages at all.
Again, situations where the plaintiff had 1% of the responsibility are the exception rather than the norm, but they are plenty of cases that are shot down simply because the plaintiff was 10% or 20% responsible for what happened.
What does all of this mean for you and your lawsuit?
You will need to figure out exactly how comparative negligence will impact your case. You will need to determine what evidence is out there (from both you and the defendant) and how much responsibility a court would place on each party. Since this isn’t always particularly intuitive, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer for this phase at the very least. The last thing that you want is to get blindsided by an unexpected court ruling on how a certain piece of evidence shifts the blame from the defendant to you.
Consulting a lawyer also has the added benefit of giving you an idea of what services a lawyer can provide to your lawsuit.