When someone sustains injuries in a truck collision due to another's negligent act, they can pursue damages for their injuries. However, truck accidents are not always purely the other person's fault. At times, the injured individual is also negligent, contributing to the crash that caused the injury. California follows the comparative fault or comparative negligence rule to evaluate damages in cases where the affected individual is partially liable.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

In truck crashes, comparative negligence is a doctrine used to determine the extent to which each person involved in a truck collision is to blame for the injury caused. Put otherwise, it allocates a given percentage of fault to every party and utilizes this percentage to establish how much compensation needs to be recovered.

Comparative fault can defend truck accident personal injury lawsuits or claims. The defendant (the person being sued) claims the hurt party was partially liable and that the hurt party’s negligent behavior played a role in causing the collision. The respondent must prove that the hurt person was negligent and that their negligent conduct significantly contributed to the accident that led to their injuries.

For example, a pedestrian who is jaywalking is knocked down by a truck that is running a red light. Even though the truck driver was reckless when they hit the pedestrian, the crash would not have happened if the pedestrian had not jaywalked. The pedestrian was, therefore, negligent.

Comparative negligence is further divided into four doctrines that assist in assigning fault to parties in various jurisdictions. These are:

Pure Comparative Negligence

The pure comparative negligence rule enables a party to recover compensation after a truck collision, even if their percentage of guilt for the accident is 99%. In this case, the party will recover one percent of their compensation in a settlement.

For example, say two drivers were in a truck accident, and one was determined to be eighty percent to blame, whereas the other was twenty percent liable. In this case, the driver who was more to blame would only recover up to twenty percent of the compensation from the one who was less at fault.

You can also look at it this way. Say a truck collision victim was awarded ten thousand dollars after winning their lawsuit, but the judge determined they were 30 percent to blame for the crash. In that case, they will only qualify to recover seven thousand dollars in damages.

Pure comparative fault also applies when several people are responsible for the same accident. In these cases, each at-fault party would be liable for paying out a percentage of the damages, depending on the degree of fault.

California is among the twelve states that employ the pure comparative negligence standard. Others include Arizona and New York.

Modified Comparative Fault—50 Percent Rule

The fifty percent rule of modified comparative negligence prevents parties from recovering damages if their guilt for a truck collision is 50 percent or higher. If you are a complainant, you want to hire a skilled truck accident attorney to demonstrate that your percentage of fault is below 50 percent to recover damages for your injuries. Twelve states, including Maine, Colorado, and Georgia, employ the 50 percent rule of modified comparative negligence.

Modified Comparative Fault—51 Percent Rule

The 51 percent rule of modified comparative fault is the same as the 50 percent rule, with one primary difference. Under the 51 percent rule, a victim is ineligible for damages in a truck accident collision lawsuit or claim if their guilt for the collision is 51 percent or higher. This standard prevents victims from recovering compensation if their fault exceeds that of all other parties involved.

If a judge determines the liability in a victim’s truck collision is shared equally (50/50), the victim and the defendant will qualify for damages. New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas are twenty-one states that use the 51 percent rule when calculating fault in personal injury cases.

Modified Comparative Fault—Gross/Slight Rule

Under the gross/slightly modified comparative fault approach, liability is not allocated as a percentage. Instead, it is assigned in terms of gross or slight contributions. Per this approach, a victim can recover more damages if their contribution to an accident is slight, whereas that of the at-fault party is gross. A gross contribution, in this case, is reckless behavior and knowing disregard for other road users’ safety. South Dakota is the only state with this unique modified comparative negligence rule.

Comparative negligence is a critical aspect of California personal injury law that helps ensure that at-fault parties are not unjustly held responsible for damages and injuries caused by someone else’s recklessness or negligence. Additionally, it ensures that victims are fairly compensated for the injuries they suffered due to someone else’s actions. Knowing how California’s comparative negligence works can help those involved in truck accidents understand their responsibilities and rights.

When each party involved in a truck collision understands comparative negligence, they will be well equipped to evaluate their possible fault and make informed decisions concerning any legal action they wish to pursue. It can also assist them in properly negotiating with other people who might be held responsible for damages. Eventually, the comparative negligence standard will be critical to ensuring fair results in personal injury cases.

Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence

Apart from comparative negligence, contributory negligence is another standard governing the capability of parties in a truck accident to recover compensation depending on their level of fault. The primary difference between these two doctrines is a victim’s capability to recover compensation when they are partly to blame for a crash.

Per the comparative fault rule, we mentioned that a victim may still receive compensation even if they are partly to blame for the accident. However, the percentage of their fault generally reduces the compensation amount. On the other hand, the contributory negligence rule bars victims from recovering compensation if they are ruled to be even slightly to blame for the accident. For example, if a victim is even one percent responsible for a truck accident, they would not recover any damages under the contributory negligence rule.

Contributory negligence is a defense that defendants can use to deny responsibility in scenarios where the victim was partly to blame for the accident. For example, if a pedestrian was jaywalking and a truck hit them, the truck driver could argue that the victim’s negligence contributed to the accident and, in turn, their injuries, and therefore they should not receive any compensation.

Previously, California used the contributory negligence rule. However, in 1975, the Supreme Court of California replaced this rule with the comparative negligence law. Today, only five states use the contributory negligence rule. These are North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and the District of Colombia.

By abandoning contributory negligence and adopting comparative negligence, California emphasizes the assignment of responsibility and encourages victims to recover fair compensation. This ensures that people injured because of another’s recklessness can obtain the financial help they require while holding at-fault parties liable for their actions. Generally, this system establishes a balanced standard for personal injury cases that benefits all parties involved.

Determining The Level of Fault Under Comparative Negligence Law

Under the comparative negligence rule, the court allocates percentages of liability to the defendant and plaintiff to establish how much compensation the complainant should recover. When apportioning degrees of fault, the court considers various elements, including the actions that resulted in the injury or accident, who was more negligent, and other relevant facts.

The percentage allocated to each involved party is established based on their extent of responsibility and carelessness for inflicting harm. For example, if the victim were determined to be 75% liable for their injury, they would only recover 25% of the total compensation from the defendant.

In essence, California allows injured victims to receive at least a given compensation amount, even when they are partly to blame for their injuries or property damage. This approach to allocating fault gives victims more chances to recover monetary compensation after a crash than is available under the contributory negligence doctrine.

What If Both Parties Sue Each Other?

At times, both parties involved in a crash are to blame, and both suffer injuries. In these cases, the defendant can bring a counterclaim once the plaintiff files a suit. Should the jury determine that both parties are partly to blame for the collision, it will determine fault and damages separately. The damages will then be offset against one another, or each person will recover separate awards.

For example, during a truck accident personal injury lawsuit trial, the jury establishes that Monica’s damages are worth forty thousand dollars and Kevin’s compensation amount is one hundred thousand dollars. The jury additionally finds that Kevin is 75 percent liable for the crash, while Monica is just 25 percent guilty. Consequently, Kevin has the right to recover twenty-five thousand dollars from Monica (25 percent of a hundred thousand dollars). On the other hand, Monica has the right to recover thirty thousand dollars from Kevin (75 percent of forty thousand dollars).

Allocation of Fault In Accidents With More Defendants

At times, several parties are to blame for a truck accident and the resulting injuries. In this case, the comparative negligence rule works similarly to a situation involving only one respondent. A jury will allocate fault among all the parties involved, including the victim and the numerous defendants. For example, in an accident involving a pedestrian, car driver, truck driver, or motorcyclist, the jury may apportion liability as follows: Trucking company: 40%, truck driver: 30%, car driver: 10%, motorcyclist: 10%, and pedestrian: 10%. 

Joint and Several Liability

When a truck accident victim suffers injuries from more than one defendant, joint and several liability permits them to pursue all their economic or special damages from only one of the defendants. Doing this relieves the victim of the hassle of filing a lawsuit against all the liable people; instead, the respondent who overpaid the victim can then file a suit against their co-respondents for compensation.

Remember that joint and several liability in California applies solely to recovering special or economic damages, like property damage, medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and lost income.

On the other hand, joint and several liability does not affect non-economic or general damages (like loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, pain, suffering, and emotional distress). Thus, if multiple defendants cause a victim general damages, the victim must file a lawsuit against each of them to receive the compensation value they are each responsible for.

For example, considering the scenario above, the pedestrian may recover the entire value of special damages from the trucking company, as the company is likely to pay more than the other at-fault parties. However, the pedestrian can only recover approximately 40 percent of their general damages from the trucking company. They would then have to recover the remaining 30 percent of general damages from the truck driver, 10% from the car driver, and 10% from the motorcyclist.

How Comparative Negligence Rule Affects a Truck Accident

The comparative fault rule can significantly affect the results of a truck accident case. That is because the victim may not receive the compensation amount they were pursuing or might only recover a part of the amount if the court determines that they were partly to blame for the collision.

The defendant might also be liable for the accident, whether or not the complainant was significantly to blame. In some instances, comparative fault can affect the witnesses’ credibility and the evidence submitted, as both parties will be striving to demonstrate their innocence and blame the other side. Here is how it works:

  • Establishing liability—the initial stage in a truck accident case is finding out who is to blame for the crash. If the complainant contributed to the collision, their level of fault will be evaluated.
  • Calculating damages—after the court has established liability, the next stage is determining the compensation amount. If the complainant is partly to blame, their compensation amount will be lowered by their degree of guilt.
  • Allocation—after the court has established the percentage of fault for every involved party, the compensation amount will be assigned accordingly.

Since the parties involved must defend their cases and prove their percentage of liability, applying comparative fault can also lead to a more complex and longer trial process. These elements make it critical for the parties involved in a truck accident case to understand comparative fault and how it can impact the case.

The Importance of Attorney Representation

The comparative negligence rule in truck accident cases can be complex, and navigating it requires the skill of an attorney. An experienced truck accident personal injury lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case, collect evidence, establish liability, and fight for your right to maximize your damages. They can also assist you in understanding some critical legal aspects, such as:

  • Comparative negligence’s effect on legal lawsuits and claims—comparative fault can significantly impact legal claims and lawsuits resulting from truck collisions. The whole concept means that even if a victim is partly to blame for the crash, they might still qualify to pursue damages. However, their compensation amount will be reduced depending on their allocated extent of liability.
  • Establishing the degree of fault—generally, determining each involved party’s degree of liability is done through carefully assessing the evidence, accident reconstruction, witness statements, relevant traffic laws, and expert opinions. Insurance adjusters or the court will look at these factors to allocate a degree of liability to each involved party.
  • Implications on compensation—per the comparative fault rule, the victim's allocated percentage of guilt directly affects their compensation amount. The higher the degree of fault, the more their compensation amount will be reduced. Truck accident victims must comprehend the possible effect of comparative negligence law on their damages and consult legal experts to navigate its intricacies.
  • Why it is essential to seek expert counsel—if you have been in a truck collision where comparative fault applies, you want to seek professional legal advice. Talk to an experienced lawyer who can assess the specific factors surrounding your situation, explain applicable laws, help you navigate the legal process, and ensure your legal rights are safeguarded.

Find a Truck Accident Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me

A truck collision differs from a standard passenger motor vehicle accident. Truck accident victims are more likely to sustain catastrophic injuries than victims of passenger vehicle accidents. Consequently, if you are involved in a truck accident, you need all the compensation you can receive to help you recuperate during this difficult time. You want to reach out to an experienced truck accident attorney who understands how the comparative negligence doctrine works, so they can help you prove the other party’s liability and obtain the compensation you deserve.

At the Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we have years of experience fighting for truck accident victims across California. We can assist you in determining whether or not you have a case after your accident. If you do, we will help you understand your legal options and how comparative negligence laws may impact your case. Most importantly, we will fight for you to obtain the compensation you deserve as you recover from your injuries. Call us today at 888-511-3139 for a consultation and case review.