Auto accident

How Comparative Fault Impacts Auto Accident Claims in New York

NTZ Editor

Auto accidents happen every day in the state of New York. New York is a no-fault state, which means that when an accident happens, all claims first go through your auto insurance policy, which pays for damages regardless of who was responsible for causing the collision. However, in the case of serious injury or death, the accident victims may seek additional compensation through a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

When seeking to sue the other driver, you’ll need to get help from an experienced personal injury attorney. The attorney will walk you through your case, give advice on what you can expect as part of the suit, and the steps that go into recovering damages from the other driver. Though you’ll have an attorney on your side, you’ll want to understand the differences between comparative fault and contributory negligence/fault in vehicle accidents in New York.

What is Comparative Fault?

The basic definition of “comparative fault” is that it is a state mandate that the amount of fault of the accident that can be attributed to each driver is then paid out in the same percentage. In layman’s terms, if you are at fault for 20% of the accident, you or your insurance company is expected to pay 20% of the damages to the other driver, and they are expected to pay the remaining 80% to you. Depending on the comparative fault attributable to you or the other party, you may recover damages or you may pay damages.

How is Fault Determined?

During the investigation into the accident, your insurance company will work to prove the other driver is at fault, but the other driver’s insurance company will work to prove that you are liable for the accident. When auto accident lawsuits go to trial, typically in no-fault states like NY, the plaintiff and defendants must give their recollections of the accident. Your personal injury attorney will ask a series of questions, using the information they’ve gathered through their own investigation to help prove that the defendant was more at fault than you were. Upon hearing the statements, the jury determines how much blame, based on the evidence your attorney provided, each of the two parties share.

How is comparative fault determined?

Consider this example:

The Red Car, the plaintiff, is pulling out of a parking lot into the street, but they fail to look both ways before doing so. The Blue Car, the defendant, hits the Red Car, causing a car accident. Who would you think is at fault for the accident? You would say that the Red Car, according to comparative fault, has all the liability for the negligence that caused the accident. But what if you learned that the driver of the Blue Car was looking over their shoulder to talk to someone in the backseat, which is considered reckless driving? Yes, the Red Car, which didn’t have right of way, pulled out in front of the Blue Car, however, the Blue Car had time to stop….IF the driver had been paying attention.

See how tricky things can be? Usually, in cases like this, the jury would likely determine that the Red Car is 70% at fault, and the Blue Car is 30% at fault, and the insurance company would pay that percentage of compensation to the other driver.

What is the Difference Between Comparative Fault and Contributory Negligence?

Comparative fault. Contributory negligence. Percentage of fault. Comparative negligence. If you’ve been in a car accident in NY, chances are you’ve heard one or all of these terms from your personal injury attorney before–and you’ve been confused. Without a knowledgeable personal injury attorney it can be confusing, because the terms are so similar, even though there are differences in the definitions. Let’s take a closer look at what each term means:

So, what is contributory negligence and how is it different than comparative fault?

The simple definition of “contributory negligence” is the failure of an injured victim (plaintiff) to act reasonably which leads to the injury to themselves and the defendants. Depending on the level of negligence determined, it may reduce the amount of compensation recovered from the defendant. If you act recklessly, and are injured because of it, and the defendant can prove that your recklessness led to your own injuries, chances are that you won’t recover damages from the defendant–even if comparative fault shows that they were at a higher percentage of fault than you.

In the example above with the Red Car and Blue Car, the Red Car’s driver may be 70% at fault, but the Blue Car’s driver’s whiplash injuries were caused because they weren’t facing forward; the Red Car’s driver does not have to pay the medical expenses for those injuries because of the Blue Car’s driver’s contributory negligence.

Types of Comparative Negligence

There are three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and gross comparative negligence.

Pure Comparative Negligence

The pure comparative negligence rule states that the plaintiff is allowed to recover damages if they have 99% responsibility for the car accident. New York, California, and another twelve states follow the pure contributory negligence rule.

Modified Comparative Negligence

The modified comparative negligence rules are different in that, if a plaintiff is found to be at-fault for a specific percentage of fault attributable, they cannot recover monetary damages. Ten states follow the modified comparative negligence bar of 50% responsibility. Another twenty-three states follow the bar of 51% responsibility, meaning that if the plaintiffs are found to be at comparative fault of over 50% or 51%, they cannot recover damages from the defendant in those states.

How Do I File an Auto Accident/Comparative Fault Claim in New York?

Even with an attorney by your side, recovering damages after a car accident in a comparative fault state like New York can be a marathon dotted with hurdles. Just knowing the differences between comparative fault, comparative negligence, and contributory negligence is only the beginning. Thankfully, there are experienced New York attorneys who know the ins and outs of comparative fault and comparative negligence laws, and how it applies to all parties involved.

After an accident, your first step is seeking medical help for any injuries. Medical professionals will document your injuries, which can then be used as part of a lawsuit if needed.

Your next step is contacting your insurance company to report the accident. In New York, which is a comparative negligence state, you will be required to prove the level of fault attributable to you, so that the insurance company can determine how much the other driver (defendants) are likely to recover in damages.

If you believe you are owed more in recovered damages than the other driver’s insurance company paid, you have the right to file a lawsuit against them. Holding the other driver responsible is crucial in your personal recovery, because you have those outstanding medical bills, those lost hours of work, and perhaps that lost job. Each of these represents financial hurdles that injury victims face when injured through no fault of their own.

Your most important step after the accident is to contact a personal injury attorney who will sit down with you, and help you understand comparative fault/negligence rules for New York. Thankfully, you don’t have to file the claim on you own. The attorney will do all the hard work for you, including dealing with your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company.

Contact an experienced New York state personal injury attorney and get a free consultation to discuss your car accident. Because the laws differ from city to state and beyond, a lawyer is an essential part of the claims picture. Even if you are only partially at fault — or have no fault of your own — in an automobile accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

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