Getting into an accident can be complicated and confusing enough even before you consider the fact that your level of fault can bar you from receiving compensation for your accident injuries, even if another car caused the accident. Read on to find out how New Jersey comparative negligence laws may affect your ability to receive compensation. For help with a claim, call Cordisco & Saile LLC: 215-791-8272.
What is negligence?
In order to understand the complex nature of New Jersey comparative negligence laws and how they can bar or reduce a plaintiff’s recovery, it is important to first understand the concept of negligence in its most basic form.
The legal definition of negligence is the failure to exercise care as a reasonably prudent person would under the same or similar circumstances. Though this reasonable person standard may sound confusing and seem vague, common sense can usually tell you what a reasonable person’s reaction would be.
For example, if a reasonable man would look behind him to check for traffic while he backs his vehicle out of his driveway, and you back out of your driveway without turning to check for traffic, your act of not looking back to check for traffic while you pull out of your driveway is negligent.
What are New Jersey’s comparative negligence laws?
The legal definition of comparative negligence is, “a rule of law applied in accident cases to determine responsibility and damages based on the negligence of every party directly involved in the accident.” Simply put, comparative negligence places a percentage of blame on each of the parties involved in an accident. This percentage affects whether you are eligible to file a claim for compensation and if so, how much compensation you may receive.
Consider this example: if you were speeding through an intersection when another driver ran a red light, you and the other driver would likely share fault.
Barred Recovery vs. Reduced Recovery
Comparative negligence rules vary by jurisdiction, and can drastically affect the compensation you receive. Some states follow pure contributory negligence laws, which prohibit any recovery if the plaintiff had any fault whatsoever in the injuries she sustained, e.g., if you were speeding through an intersection when another driver hit you, your violation would bar you from recovering any compensation.
Comparative negligence is more relaxed concept than pure contributory negligence. New Jersey is one of many states that have adopted a comparative negligence rule. Under New Jersey Revised Statute § 2A: 15-5.1, plaintiffs who have contributed to their own accidents or injuries are eligible to recover compensation, as long as the plaintiff’s negligence was not greater than the negligence of the other driver(s).
In other words, as long as the plaintiff is not more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, she can recover damages. Remember, however, that a plaintiff’s percentage of fault will reduce her compensation
To gain some perspective, here is an example of when the plaintiff might face a reduction:
Plaintiff Driver (P) and Defendant Driver (D) get into an accident at an intersection. P has a green light, and D is making a right turn on red. D does not stop and look before making his turn and hits P. Because P was not wearing her seatbelt, she flies forward and hits her head, sustaining severe injuries that she may have avoided if she had buckled up.
In this case, P would still recover from D, but her damages will likely face a reduction because she was partially at fault for her injuries (i.e., not wearing her seatbelt exacerbated her injuries.
In contrast, here is an example of when the plaintiff’s percentage of fault could bar her recovery altogether:
Plaintiff Driver (P) and Defendant Driver (D) get into an accident at an intersection. This time, however, P is intoxicated and driving 15 miles an hour over the speed limit when D turns left without looking and hits P. Even though P had the right of way, because she was speeding and driving under the influence, an investigation may find her more than 50 percent at fault.
Why does proving fault matter?
Your entire car accident claim hinges on fault. If you are unable to prove that the other driver was more responsible for the accident than you are, you will be unable to recover anything.
Proving without a doubt that the other driver was at fault will also allow you to recover more money. If you are only able to prove that the other driver was 70 percent at fault, you lose 30 percent of your settlement. This means that if your case is worth $100,000, you lose $30,000. That money could mean the difference between paying off all your medical bills and still being in the hole for a couple thousand.
You can prove fault using evidence such as:
- Photos of the accident scene: This includes damage to the vehicles, your injuries, any hazards in the road, the weather conditions, broken traffic signals, etc.
- Police reports: A police report will note any citations issued, any early assumptions of fault, and any eyewitness contact information.
- Eyewitness testimony: This can be crucial in determining fault as a witness can testify that he saw the other driver texting or driving erratically right before the accident.
Contact an attorney
Every case is unique and many can be extremely complicated. If you have been involved in a New Jersey car accident, allow us to provide you legal representation when you need it most. Our car accident attorneys will walk you through the steps necessary to file your personal injury claim, including helping you prove fault and defending you against any allegations of comparative negligence along the way.
Contact Cordisco & Saile LLC 215-791-8272 today for a consultation: 215-791-8272.