Contributory Fault

Hopefully, you will never be involved in an accident that results in medical bills, lost wages, and other losses. Unfortunately, accidents can happen. And they are often the result of someone else’s negligence.

For example, perhaps you’re at the grocery store, and you injure yourself in a slip and fall accident. This might happen if an item falls to the floor and an employee does not remove it in a timely manner. Or, you may be involved in a pedestrian accident at a crosswalk if a negligent driver does not notice you.

Those are just two examples. Ideally, you will never be injured in these or other accidents. However, you can’t control whether others are negligent. Therefore, it’s important to understand your legal rights if you ever find yourself involved in such an accident.

After an accident, you can often seek compensation for your medical bills and related losses. You may typically do so by filing a claim to collect from the insurance of the negligent party. If they are uninsured or their insurance denies your claim, you have the option of seeking damages in court by filing a lawsuit.

However, you should also understand that these cases are often complicated for numerous reasons. One reason some claimants do not recover as much money as they expect is contributory fault.

The legal idea of “contributory fault” (also known as comparative negligence) states that more than one individual can be responsible for an accident. Sometimes, an injury victim may be found to have contributed to their losses. Their contributions to the accident will influence how much compensation they can recover. This guide will explain in greater detail what contributory fault is and how it can impact your personal injury case.

Pennsylvania’s Contributory Fault Law

Pennsylvania’s Contributory Fault Law

Contributory fault laws vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the law states that a victim can still recover compensation if they contributed to their accident. However, they cannot receive compensation if they are more at fault for the accident than the other party. If a victim is less than 51% at fault, their compensation will be reduced according to their share of fault.

An Example of Contributory Fault

The following example will demonstrate how contributory fault laws can influence the outcome of a personal injury case.

Perhaps you’re involved in a truck accident. Say you were driving in the left lane, and a trucker moved over to the left lane without checking for other cars. Because trucks don’t accelerate as quickly as other vehicles, you were unable to apply the brakes in time to avoid driving into the truck from behind.

In this case, you may file a claim to collect from the trucking company’s insurance. You could argue that the trucker was negligent because they failed to properly check the left lane before switching lanes. Additionally, Pennsylvania law restricts when trucks can use the left lane. Therefore, you could also argue that you were injured because the trucker broke the law.

However, suppose you were speeding at the time of the accident. Even if you were only slightly exceeding the speed limit, this could affect how much compensation you are able to recover. Say you had $50,000 in damages but were determined to be 20% responsible for the crash. That means the most you would be eligible to recover in these circumstances would be $40,000 (80% of your damages).

Pennsylvania Uses a Modified Contributory Fault Model

Once more, each state has its own contributory fault law. They are not all the same.

In some states, a victim can recover compensation so long as another party shares at least some percentage of fault for the accident (even 1%). This is not the case in Pennsylvania. 

The law states that a victim can recover compensation if their “negligence was not greater than the causal negligence of the defendant or defendants against whom recovery is sought.” In other words, if you are 51% responsible for your accident, you will not be able to secure compensation.

How Pennsylvania’s Contributory Fault Law May Impact Your Case

Determining who is responsible for an accident and the extent to which they are responsible can be challenging. The fact that a negligent party or their insurer accuses you of playing a major role in your accident does not always mean they are correct.

To return to a previous example, you might trip over an item on the floor at the supermarket if no one removed it promptly. In this circumstance, you would argue that you are owed compensation because an employee should have removed the item from the floor.

However, the insurance company might argue that you tripped over it because you weren’t paying attention. The insurer might use this argument to reduce how much money they need to pay out.

This is a complex scenario. Whether or not it is “easy” to see an item on the floor of a supermarket is a subjective topic. 

The lesson to be learned from this example is that insurance companies will deploy a range of tactics in an effort to avoid paying a claimant what they are asking for. You need to be prepared to guard against them. 

Contributory Fault: One ReasonYou Should Hire a Lawyer

Lawyers understand the ways in which insurance companies attempt to protect themselves financially. They know that insurers sometimes misuse contributory fault laws to reduce their liability.

This highlights one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to review your personal injury case with an attorney before filing a claim. If a lawyer agrees to take on your case, they will conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence and identify liable parties. This won’t merely make it easier to prove you were injured due to negligence. It will also help you counter any false claims that you were injured due to your own carelessness.