Understanding Comparative Negligence in Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases are not always straightforward, and determining liability can be complex. Like many other states, the legal principle of comparative negligence plays a significant role in personal injury cases in New Jersey. Comparative negligence is a legal doctrine used to distribute fault among all involved parties and determine the compensation to be awarded to the injured party. This article will explore the concept of comparative negligence in personal injury cases, how it works, and its implications for both plaintiffs and defendants in New Jersey.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is the legal framework that acknowledges the possibilities that more than one party can be responsible for causing an accident or injury. Under this doctrine, the court determines the degree of fault for each party involved in the accident and assigns a percentage of liability to each. The injured party’s compensation is then adjusted based on their degree of fault in the accident.

New Jersey uses a system of modified comparative negligence. Specifically, New Jersey adheres to the “51% bar rule,” which means that an injured party can only recover damages if they are found less than 51% at fault for the accident. If the injured party is found to be 51% or more responsible for the accident, they are barred from recovering any compensation from other at-fault parties.

An example of this would be, if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in damages but is found to be 30% responsible for the accident, their compensation will be reduced by 30%, resulting in a final award of $70,000.

How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Personal Injury Cases?

  • Determining Liability: Comparative negligence allows for a fair assessment of liability in personal injury cases. It recognizes that accidents are often the result of multiple contributing factors and ensures that each party’s degree of fault is considered.
  • Reducing Awards: Plaintiffs who are partially at fault for their injuries will receive reduced compensation based on their degree of fault. This helps prevent excessive awards when the plaintiff bears some responsibility for the accident.
  • Complex Litigation: Comparative negligence can make personal injury cases more complex and contentious. Both sides may present evidence and arguments to establish the degree of fault, leading to prolonged litigation.
  • Settlement Negotiations: Parties involved in personal injury cases often consider the concept of comparative negligence when negotiating settlements. Defendants may be willing to settle for a lower amount if they believe the plaintiff shares a significant portion of the blame.
  • Expert Testimony: In many cases, expert witnesses are called upon to provide opinions on liability and the degree of fault. These experts help the court and jury make informed decisions about the comparative negligence issue.

Navigating Comparative Negligence in New Jersey Personal Injury Claims

Comparative negligence is a crucial legal doctrine in personal injury cases in New Jersey. It ensures that liability is allocated fairly based on each party’s degree of fault and prevents plaintiffs who are mostly responsible for their injuries from receiving compensation. For individuals involved in personal injury claims, understanding how comparative negligence works is essential for navigating the legal process effectively. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney in New Jersey is advisable to ensure that your rights and interests are protected in a case of comparative negligence.

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Leigh A. Raffauf

Partner, Harrell Injury Law

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