In general, all car accidents have a discernible cause, whether the result of human actions, negligence, or even factors of nature. For example, a car accident may be the result of driver distraction, which the federal government reports led to 421,000 injuries in 2011 alone. Or, a wreck may be caused by a driver who is intoxicated by alcohol or other substances, and loses control of the vehicle. In some cases, a crash may even occur due to a faulty party in the vehicle, as was the case with certain General Motors cars possessing a defective ignition switch, which contributed to over 50 deaths.
Of course, those seriously injured in a car accident may choose to file a personal injury case against the at-fault parties to recover compensation to cover the costs of medical bills, time missed at work, and other expenses. But what happens if the injured party himself was partially or even significantly responsible for the crash? Does his portion of fault bar him from obtaining compensation against another liable individual or entity?
Fault in Personal Injury Claims
In a personal injury case, in order to be awarded compensation, the injured party, or plaintiff, must label someone who was at-fault or liable for the accident, the defendant. To be sure, it would be unfair for the plaintiff to recover money from someone who had no connection to the accident at all, or who was not responsible; as such, the plaintiff must gather evidence highlighting the defendant’s fault in the case. Only then will he have the opportunity to obtain monetary compensation.
Often times, however, there is more than one party liable for a car accident. Here, the issue of determining fault becomes more complex, as it is up to a judge or jury to decide who was most responsible. Take, for example, a situation involving two drivers on a road that are involved in the crash, one red and one blue. Upon first glance, it can be determined that the driver of the red car was speeding to a certain extent, which seemingly led to the collision. In this case, the driver of the blue car could file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the red car, alleging the speeding was the only cause of the accident.
In the same situation, however, things become more complex if it is shown that while the red car was speeding before the crash, the driver of the blue car was texting before the accident occurred, or performing any other act that left him distracted. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that the red car’s speeding played a factor in the wreck, but it places partial liability on both shoulders.
Comparative Fault in Car Accidents
To deal with situations like this, Colorado follows a modified system of comparative fault in personal injury cases. Specifically, the law provides that in cases like this, the jury is required to include in a verdict:
- the overall amount of recoverable damages in a case, which may include medical bills and other costs;
- the percentage of liability of each party; and
- each party’s recoverable amount, per his percentage of fault.
In our above example, imagine that a total of $100,000 in damages arose as a result of the accident. Furthermore, after a trial, the jury determines that the red car was 65 percent responsible for the crash, with the remaining liability placed on the blue car. In this situation, the blue car would only be able to recover $65,000 in compensation, as his portion of fault bars him from additional damages.
Finally, the law also states that an injured party who is at least 50 percent responsible for a wreck is barred from receiving an award.
The Importance of a Good Attorney
What’s the takeaway from this? In a personal injury lawsuit, the importance of a skilled trial attorney cannot be overstated. In the event multiple parties were liable, a personal injury lawyer will carefully examine all pieces of evidence to label all possible defendants. Further, an attorney’s actions may help decrease a showing of liability on behalf of the plaintiff, thereby increasing his chance of recovery.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn our attorneys have years of experience working on personal injury cases, and have a deep understanding of Colorado’s rules of comparative negligence. We are prepared to put that knowledge to work for you and help you obtain the compensation you deserve.