We all know that you can seek financial compensation when you’ve been hurt in a car accident. But what if you’re partially at fault? Whoever you accuse will also have an attorney, and they will pick apart every aspect of the accident. Even the smallest mistake can contribute to the overall accident. Fearing being blamed, you may refrain from seeking the justice you deserve.
In Utah, civil courts operate under the “comparative negligence” system. This process allows someone to get compensation for their injuries, even if they are partially to blame.
This article provides a broad overview of the comparative negligence model.
Overview of Utah’s Comparative Negligence Laws
Assigning fault is a crucial aspect of any personal injury case. It is the determining factor for whom the court should hold responsible for damages. To aid this process, Utah employs the comparative negligence system.
Simply put, comparative negligence is a legal principle that allows the court to assign a degree of fault to both parties.
Generally, the court assesses each person’s percentage of fault. The plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) can receive compensation based on the defendant’s degree of culpability. Simply stating this fact can make the concept hard to understand.
To help clarify how this works, here are some examples:
There is a car accident involving two drivers, Alice and Bob. Alice was texting while driving, but Bob was speeding.
The court determines that Alice is 60% at fault for being distracted, and Bob is 40% at fault for speeding. If the total damages amount to $10,000, Alice would be responsible for 60% of the damages ($6,000), and Bob would be responsible for 40% ($4,000).
In a lawsuit where Bob sues Alice, he could win $6,000, but he would not owe Alice $4,000.
In a slip and fall case, Charlie slips on a wet floor in a supermarket. The court finds that the supermarket failed to put up a caution sign, contributing to the accident. However, Charlie was also distracted and wasn’t watching where he was going.
The court determines that the supermarket is 70% at fault, and Charlie is 30% at fault. If the damages are $5,000, the supermarket would be liable for 70% of the damages ($3,500), and Charlie would bear 30% of the responsibility ($1,500).
In a lawsuit, Charlie could receive $3,500.
In a medical malpractice case, Dave undergoes surgery and suffers complications. The court determines that the surgeon failed to follow proper procedures. However, it also rules that Dave did not disclose his full medical history, affecting the surgery’s outcome.
The court finds the surgeon 80% at fault and Dave 20% at fault. If the damages amount to $100,000, the surgeon would be responsible for 80% of the damages ($80,000), and Dave would be responsible for 20% ($20,000).
Dave could get $80,000 in a lawsuit.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Some states use a “pure” comparative negligence model. Even if a plaintiff is 99% at fault for their injuries, they could still receive 1% of the damages in a lawsuit.
Most of the states that use the comparative negligence model prefer the “modified” version. Under this system, if the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, they cannot receive any compensation.
Utah uses modified comparative negligence.
How Does Utah Determine Fault in a Personal Injury Case?
Like anything else in a courtroom, proving something requires evidence. Courts must weigh this evidence against each party’s claims and make a ruling.
When finding fault, Utah courts will consider factors such as witness statements, police reports, medical records, and expert testimony.
The Rule of Causation
The rule of causation is a critical part of determining negligence. Essentially, this term describes the cause-and-effect relationship between someone’s actions and the resulting injury. It also applies to someone’s lack of action, or negligence, that led to another’s harm.
Simply put, if you can prove that a negligent act directly caused harm, then the negligent is responsible for the damages.
In a comparative negligence state, both sides will try to establish causation in an injury. The defense wants to pay as little as possible, or they try to avoid payment altogether. The plaintiff’s participation in the harm can lead to a smaller payment or no payment at all. Therefore, the defense has a strong incentive to prove fault on the plaintiff’s part.
What if Multiple Parties Are at Fault?
When it comes to injuries caused by multiple parties, determining responsibility can be a tricky task. It requires thorough investigations into everyone’s actions. A multi-car pile-up, for instance, may involve fault from many people.
Because of comparative negligence, more than one party can be held partially responsible for an injury. As we explained above, the liable parties must then pay damages based on their fault percentage.
Multi-party liability is incredibly complex. If you’ve been hurt, and several people are at fault, you will need a good attorney who can sift through the facts to pursue the compensation you need.
Tips for Avoiding Comparative Negligence Claims
- Always be aware of your speed. Utah has some unique speed limits, including lower limits for heavy trucks and higher limits in rural areas.
- Be sure to signal your intentions clearly. This allows other drivers to make safe decisions based on your actions.
- Be mindful of the weather, especially during the winter months. Snow, ice, and fog can all make driving more dangerous, and you must adjust your driving accordingly.
- Avoid distractions. Don’t text and drive, and wait until you are at a stop to adjust your radio.
In short, safe driving can help ensure that you are not blamed for an accident.
Nelson, Taylor & Associates, PLLC is here to help guide you through a personal injury claim. If you’ve been injured by another’s actions, call our office at (801) 901-7046 or contact us online.