For many hundreds of years, the principle of contributory negligence was commonly accepted in personal injury cases. Under this doctrine, an injured party who was responsible in any way for his injury might be prevented from recovering anything, regardless of the degree of fault of both parties. Because many defense attorneys successfully used minuscule degrees of contributory negligence to prevent grievously injured people from collecting damages, the concept of “comparative negligence” developed. Under this principle, negligence by the injured party may not bar recovery, but may limit it.
Two approaches to comparative negligence have developed over the years. The first, known as “pure comparative negligence,” simply takes a look at the total amount of an injured party’s losses. The jury is then asked to allocate blame for the accident, and the total amount of damages is reduced by the percentage to which the injured party contributed to the accident. For example, if a person is injured when someone else fails to stop at a traffic signal, but was speeding at the time, the jury may determine that the total amount of losses is $100,000. If they conclude that the plaintiff was equally at fault and allocate liability at 50%, the injured party will get only $50,000.
The other form of comparative negligence, known as modified comparative negligence, only allows the injured party to recover anything if his or her fault falls below a certain percentage. Most states with modified comparative negligence laws set that limit at 50%. Accordingly, in the example above, if the state abides by a modified comparative negligence standard, the plaintiff would be entitled for recover nothing. If, however, the jury set the injured party’s liability at 40%, the plaintiff would be able to recover $60,000 ($100,000-$40,000).
New Jersey follows the modified comparative negligence standard, and sets the limit at 50%. In addition, if the plaintiff can show that a particular defendant was at least 60% responsible, the plaintiff can recover the full amount of damages from that party.
Contact the RAM Law Office
At RAM Law, we offer a free initial case evaluation to prospective personal injury clients. To arrange a meeting, contact us online or call us, in New Brunswick at 732-247-3600 or in Somerville at 908-448-2560.