You were injured in a car accident but helped cause it. Can you still file a lawsuit against the other driver?
The answer depends on the laws of the state in which the accident occurred.
If the collision took place in a contributory negligence state, you cannot sue if you shared in any blame for causing the accident.
Suppose your accident was in a pure comparative negligence state. In that case, you can generally sue even if you were partially at fault for an accident, so long as the other party or parties were also at least partially at fault.
If your auto accident was in a modified comparative negligence state, you can still sue but only if you were less than 50% or 51% responsible for causing the crash.
Note that if you have standing to sue, you can likely receive compensation for such items as:
- medical bills and medical expenses,
- lost income/wages,
- lost earning capacity,
- property damage,
- vehicle damage, and
- pain and suffering.
1. What are contributory negligence rules?
A few states follow contributory negligence rules when it comes to an injured driver sharing blame in a motor vehicle accident.
Under these rules, you are barred from filing a lawsuit if you helped contribute to an accident in any way, even if only by 1%.1
Example: Joe suffered a personal injury when another driver hit him after speeding through a stop sign. Joe was texting just prior to getting hit. Under contributory negligence rules, Joe probably cannot file a car accident claim since he could have helped cause the accident by texting while driving.
Only a few states currently have contributory negligence laws in place. These include:
- North Carolina, and
2. What about pure comparative negligence rules?
The personal injury laws of some states set forth pure comparative negligence rules.
These rules say that you can file a lawsuit against an at-fault party even if you helped cause the accident. This holds true even if you were 99% at fault for contributing to the accident.
But note that your overall compensation in a case will get reduced by the percentage of your fault.2
Example: Lisa is involved in a car accident case where she was 75% to blame for causing the accident. While a car hit her vehicle, she was speeding and ran a red light before the collision. Lisa suffered serious injuries.
Lisa files a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver. He car accident lawyer helps her receive a jury award for $20,000. However, since she was 75% to blame for the accident, her award gets reduced by the same percentage.
As a result, she receives $5,000 in damages.
Examples of pure comparative negligence fault states are:
- New York, and
3. What are modified comparative negligence rules?
Modified comparative negligence rules say that you can still file a lawsuit if you helped cause a car accident.
However, you can only do so if your blame for the crash is under 51% or 50% (depending on the state). If your blame in an accident was at 50% or 51%, then you generally lose your legal right to file an injury claim.3
Further, as with a pure comparative negligence state, your overall recovery in a suit or insurance claim is reduced by your percentage of fault.4
Example: Joe’s car is damaged after rear ending another driver. However, Joe was tailgating before the collision and is clearly the at-fault driver. Joe’s total damages are $10,000.
Joe files an auto insurance claim with the other driver’s insurance company. An adjuster’s investigation reveals that Joe was 75% responsible for causing the accident. The state laws in Joe’s state follow modified comparative negligence rules.
The insurance agent can deny Joe’s car insurance claim since he was over 50% responsible for causing the accident.
But assume Joe helped contribute to the accident by 25%. Joe can now receive compensation from the insurance company. But his payout will get reduced by 25%. Joe should receive $7,500.
Examples of states with modified comparative negligence rules are:
- Iowa, and
4. What should you do immediately following a car accident?
Following a car collision, accident victims should:
- seek medical attention,
- re-visit the scene of the accident to collect evidence and take pictures,
- gather the contact information from any witnesses,
- review their insurance information and insurance policy to learn of any obligations to follow,
- obtain a copy of any police report (if one was made), and
- contact a personal injury lawyer/car accident attorney for help.
Please keep in mind that the time limit for bringing a car accident lawsuit is usually two to three years, depending on the state law that governs your case.
You will want to make sure your file a suit well within this time period to help ensure you secure a fair settlement for your injuries.