If you get into a car accident in California, a comparative negligence system determines the liability of each driver. What this means is that the amount of compensation you can receive from another driver’s insurance company depends on the amount that each of you are deemed at fault for the accident.
California uses what’s known as a pure comparative negligence system, which means that a driver is able to get compensation for their damages from an accident regardless of their own degree of fault. Here is an example that illustrates how this works at two different levels of fault:
Let’s say that a driver named Tom is going through an intersection at a green light when a car coming the opposite direction makes a left turn in front of him, even though cars making a left turn are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic. Tom hits the side of the other driver’s car. The driver who made the left turn instead of yielding would typically be considered 100 percent at fault, which would allow Tom to recover all of his damages from that driver’s insurance company. However, Tom was speeding, driving at 50 miles per hour even though the speed limit was 35. Because of this, the insurance adjusters decide that he is 25 percent at fault for the accident and the other driver is 75 percent at fault. If Tom has damages that add up to 10,000 dollars, he can recover 7,500 dollars from the other driver’s insurance company.
The other driver is also able to make a claim on this accident, because Tom does share some of the fault. Since Tom is 25 percent at fault, the other driver can recover compensation for 25 percent of his damages through Tom’s insurance company. If he also had damages totaling 10,000 dollars, then he can get 2,500 dollars.
The other type of comparative negligence is modified comparative negligence. This is when you can only receive compensation for your damages if you’re only at fault for a certain percentage of the accident or less. For example, some states only allow you to recover damages if you are determined to be 50 percent or less at fault, meaning the other driver was equally or more responsible for the accident than you were. In the hypothetical situation presented above, only Tom would be able to recover damages if the two drivers lived in a state that uses a modified comparative negligence system.
Remember that for a driver’s negligent behavior to affect an accident claim, that behavior must have caused the accident in some way. If someone rear ends you while you were stopped at a red light using your cell phone, the fact that you were behaving negligently by using your phone while operating a vehicle doesn’t matter in regards to the accident claim. You can’t be assigned any fault for that, because using your phone in no way contributed to the other driver hitting your car.
While it’s always critical that you handle your accident claim properly, it’s particularly important in California and any other states that use a pure comparative negligence system, as any negligence on your part lowers the amount that you can recover and could result in the other driver recovering damages from your insurance company. You could end up getting less money than you deserve and paying more for your insurance policy every month, just because you were assigned a small amount of negligence.
To give your accident claim the best chance of success, you should avoid talking to the other driver’s insurance adjuster at all. Any time that you do so, the adjuster has the opportunity to gather evidence that they can use against you to weaken your claim and assign you some percentage of the fault.
For the best results, you should hire a lawyer to represent you as soon as possible after a car accident. Your lawyer will know all about pure comparative negligence and can advise you on how to proceed to minimize your liability for the accident. They can also speak to the other insurance adjuster for you, so you avoid the possibility of incriminating yourself.