Understanding comparative fault in California

Most people who live in San Mateo County understand that a person who is negligent must pay damages to anyone injured by the negligent act or omission. But what happens if both parties are partially at fault? The answer to this question depends on what is called “comparative fault.”

When English law moved across the Atlantic when our nation was founded, many of the rules of tort law were imported into the new republic. One of those rules was comparative negligence. This rule precluded anyone whose negligence contributed to the injury from recovering damages. In other words, a person who was 1% negligent could not recover damages from the party who was 99% at fault.

The unfairness of this rule was recognized in many states, including California. Beginning in the 1960s, many states abandoned the rule of comparative negligence and adopted the concept of comparative fault. California is a pure comparative fault state. This means that a party can recover damages even if its degree of fault is less than the degree of fault attributed to the other person.

If the parties do not settle their dispute and the case goes to trial, the issue of allocation of fault will be given to the jury. The judge will instruct the jurors that they must determine the degree of fault attributable to each party. The degrees of fault found by the jury will then be used by the court in allocating damages.

If the parties’ damages are approximately equal, they will be distributed in the proportion of fault assigned by the jury. If the parties’ degree of fault and damages are significantly unequal, the allocation of damages can become quite complex. Anyone who was injured in an accident that may involve comparative fault may wish to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer about the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

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