Understanding Pennsylvania’s Contributory Fault Rules
In some cases, the other party is entirely at fault for the cause of the accident. However, more than one person could have contributed to the cause of the accident. In those cases, we look to Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law to help determine who is responsible for paying your damages.
The comparative or contributory fault laws vary by state. The three categories of contributory fault are:
Pennsylvania adopted a modified comparative negligence standard for personal injury cases. However, it helps to understand the other two standards when discussing how comparative negligence impacts your personal injury claim.
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How Are Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence Different?
In both cases, you determine who is at fault for the accident. In a comparative negligence system, the at-fault party is responsible for damages caused by the accident in proportion to their degree of fault. However, contributory negligence focuses on the injured party’s level of fault for the cause of their injury.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Pure contributory negligence bars the plaintiff from recovering damages if they share any fault for the cause of their injury. Only the District of Columbia and four states (Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Maryland) have adopted this extremely harsh negligence rule.
If you are injured in an accident in one of these states or D.C. and you are partially to blame for the cause of the accident, you do not recover damages. Therefore, even if you were 1% at fault for a car accident in Maryland and the other driver was 99% at fault, you receive no money for your injuries, financial losses, or non-economic damages.
Pure Comparative Negligence
On the opposite end of the scale is pure comparative negligence. About a dozen states adopted this negligence standard. A victim could be 99% at fault and still receive compensation for 1% of their damages.
The parties to an accident are liable for the damages caused by the accident proportionally to their percentage of fault. Therefore, the damages awarded to an injured victim can be reduced if the victim contributed to the cause of the accident.
For example, suppose a jury finds that an accident victim was 60% at fault for the cause of the accident. The person’s compensation for damages is reduced by 60%. If damages awarded by the jury totaled $100,000, the plaintiff would receive only $40,000 ($100,000 less 60%).
Modified comparative negligence is a good compromise when a person is partially to blame for the cause of an accident.
Modified Comparative Negligence
The remaining states have adopted a modified comparative negligence standard. A person is not barred from receiving money for an injury claim if they contributed to the cause of the accident.
However, if their fault exceeds 50% or 51% (depending on the state), they cannot recover any money for damages.
Pennsylvania’s Modified Comparative Negligence Law
Pennsylvania adopted a modified comparative negligence standard with a 51% bar. As long as you are not held liable for more than 50% of the cause of the accident, you can recover compensation for your damages. In other words, if your fault is greater than that of the other party, you are barred from recovering damages.
For example, the jury finds that you are 20% at fault for the car crash because you were speeding. They award damages in the amount of $200,000. The amount of damages you receive is $160,000 (total damages less 20%).
Under Pennsylvania law, when more than one person is liable for damages, that person is only liable for the portion of damages equal to their fault. In other words, if you were 40% to blame for causing a car accident and the other driver was 60% to blame, you would not be responsible for 100% of the plaintiff’s damages. The court would only enter an order against you for 40% of the total damages.
However, there are exceptions to the rule.
A defendant can be held jointly liable for all damages, regardless of the percentage of fault if the case involves:
- Intentional misrepresentation
- An intentional tort (injury)
- The person is liable for at least 60% or more of the total liability
- The release or threatened release of a hazardous substance
- Violation of §497 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code
Insurance companies use allegations of comparative negligence to shift the blame for an accident to the victim. Their goal is to reduce the amount of money they must pay to resolve an injury claim.
Beware of this insurance tactic. Claims adjusters may try to get you to admit something that could be used to allege fault. Therefore, it is generally in your best interest to talk with a lawyer before providing statements or answering questions about the accident or your injuries.
Contact a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation
If another person caused your injury, you could be entitled to compensation for your damages. Contact our personal injury lawyers in Philadelphia to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options for recovering money for an injury claim. Having a lawyer help with your claim will increase your chances of receiving the maximum compensation. A lawyer will fight back when the other party tries to pin the blame on you for the cause of the accident.