Understanding The Three Different Forms Of Comparative Negligence

15 October 2015
 Categories: Law, Blog

Comparative negligence is a legal doctrine courts use to compare the negligence of parties involved in an accident. This doctrine is necessary because, in most cases, more than one party is at fault when an accident occurs. Here are the three forms of comparative negligence:

Pure Comparative Negligence

This is the classical form of comparative negligence. In this approach, the court sums up your damages and calculates your contribution to the accident. Your contribution to the injury is calculated as a percentage, which is then used to reduce your damages. The rationale behind this principle is that you should only be compensated for the injuries that you did not cause.

Consider an example of an accident involving two motorists A and B. Assume that the court decides that driver A's contribution to the accident is 40% while the remaining 60% is due to driver B's negligence. If the respective damages are $10,000 and $20,000 for A and B respectively, then here is what the court will do:

  • It will reduce driver A's damages by 40% so that he or she only gets $6,000
  • It will reduce driver B's damages by 60% so that he or she only gets $8,000

The main advantage of this system is that you can recover some damages even if you are 90% liable for an accident; you will still be awarded damages comparative to the remaining 10%.

Modified Comparative Negligence

If your court uses this principle, then you can only recover damages as long as your percentage contribution to the accident is less than a specific percentage. Many jurisdictions set this percentage as either 50% or 51%. This means you don't recover anything if your contribution to the accident is greater than the defendant's contribution.

Slight/Gross Comparative Negligence

In this third form of comparative negligence, the court will only award you damages if it considers your contribution to the accident as "slight" and the other motorist's contribution as "gross." At this time, South Dakota is the only state that uses this form of comparative negligence. In practice, this means that the court compares your contribution to the accident, and the one who was seriously at fault doesn't get any damages.

As you can see, the determination of fault is fundamental to damage recovery when comparative negligence is used. Your percentage fault may determine not only how much compensation you get, but also whether or not you receive any damages at all. This underscores the need to hire an attorney to help minimize your fault contribution whenever you are involved in an accident.

For professional legal help, contact a law firm such as Gibbs and Parnell.