Some car crashes are straightforward enough – there’s plenty of evidence to support the fact that one person is clearly at fault. Whoever is at fault pays for the damages and losses of anyone else affected by the crash. But the majority of car accidents end up being more complicated than this, especially if there are multiple vehicles involved.
Your case may seem cut and dry to you, but another driver may try to fight you on the facts to avoid getting stuck with liability. In more complex cases, multiple people might be at fault in different ways – one person may have been speeding while another driver may have been texting on their phone. Both of their actions may have contributed to the crash.
In these cases, California applies a pure comparative fault system to determine liability.
What Is Comparative Fault and How Does It Apply to Car Accidents in California?
Comparative fault comes into play when more than one person’s actions cause a car accident or make it worse. California’s pure comparative fault system allows for a fair distribution of liability to reflect the proportion of fault that each person has in the crash.
What Is the Difference Between Pure Comparative Fault and Modified Comparative Fault?
In a pure comparative fault state like California, you can recover for your damages as long as you are not 100% at fault. For example, even if you are 99% at fault, a legal claim could recover up to 1% of your total losses caused by the crash. If you are 40% at fault, you could recover up to 60% of your damages.
Compare that to states that use the modified comparative fault system, where you cannot recover any damages if you are more than 50% responsible for the accident. So you would not be able to get any compensation if you’re even 51% at fault. But if you are less than 50% at fault, you can recover whatever remains. For example, if you were found to be 40% responsible for the crash, you could get up to 60% of your damages.
Before California switched to the comparative fault system, the law used to work based on contributory negligence, which made it impossible to recover damages if you were even 1% at fault in an accident. Fortunately, this no longer applies.
As you may be able to tell, establishing fault is the most important part of a car accident case. If you can prove that someone else’s actions caused your injuries in some way (even if it’s just 1%), you could recover compensation for those losses according to the law.
How Is Fault Determined in a Car Crash Involving Multiple Parties in California?
Determining fault is all about gathering the right evidence – which your lawyer can help with. An experienced car accident attorney will know what types of evidence will work best in your case. Ultimately, fault is determined by a fact-finder like a judge or a jury.
Below are some examples of how comparative fault may play out in California cases:
- Anita is driving while texting and has to suddenly slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian. Bobby, following closely behind, fails to stop and rear-ends her. A court or insurance adjuster could find Anita 75% responsible for distracted driving and Bob 25% responsible for following so closely that he couldn’t stop in time.
- Carter makes a left turn at an intersection where David runs a red light, causing a collision. Carter could be held partly responsible for failing to yield to oncoming traffic, while David could be held partly responsible for speeding as he ran a red light.
- Ed attempts to change lanes without signaling and Frank accelerates in the next lane over to prevent him from merging. They get in a side-swipe collision as a result. Ed could be held partly at fault for his failure to signal and Frank could be held partly at fault for the aggressive driving that contributed to the situation.
- George jaywalks across a busy street without using the designated crosswalk. Helen, who is driving past the speed limit, doesn’t notice George in time and strikes him. Both parties could be partly at fault for the actions that caused the collision.
- A chain reaction occurs on a highway involving three vehicles – the first changes lanes suddenly without signaling, causing a second car to swerve and collide with a third car in another lane. The second car may be held partly responsible if a court or insurance adjuster determines that they failed to maintain a safe driving speed at the time.
What happens if two people who are both responsible for the crash sue each other? After the first party files a lawsuit, the second party can file a counterclaim. If both parties are responsible in some way, their fault and damages will be calculated separately. Afterward, either the damages will be offset against each other or given as separate awards.
How Does Comparative Fault Affect the Compensation I Can Receive in a Car Accident Case?
If you are found to share some of the fault in a comparative fault case, that can cut down on the amount of damages you can ultimately get in a legal claim.
For example, Michael rolls through a stop sign and hits Samantha, who is speeding in another direction. Michael sues Samantha for the repairs to his car and to cover the cost of treating his injuries. Samantha counter-sues for her medical bills and car damage.
After calculating their damages, a jury finds that Michael has $100,000 in damages and Samantha has $200,000. The jury also decides that Michael is 60% at fault and Samantha is 40% at fault. The final result is that Michael collects $40,000 from Samantha (40% of his total damages of $100,000) and Samantha collects $120,000 from Michael (60% of her total damages of $200,000). They may pay the judgments separately or offset the damages against each other so that Samantha doesn’t pay Michael anything but Michael pays Samantha $80,000 ($120,000-$40,000).
The math behind comparative fault damages can get complicated, which is why it helps to get an experienced California car accident lawyer on your side. When you work with a lawyer, they’re looking out for your best interests at all times, no matter how many other drivers are involved. A good attorney will fight to get you the maximum possible compensation.
At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help. Contact us now to get started with your free case consultation. We work on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t pay us until we win.