COLORADO COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE LAW
The first question everyone asks after an automobile accident is, “Who is to blame for this?” It is a natural reaction, after such a traumatic experience, to try to understand how it could have happened.
It is also natural to worry about who is responsible for paying for the damage to one’s vehicle, and for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages when someone is injured. A personal injury attorney can help sort out these questions and begin the process of determining responsibility. Accident investigators will search for evidence to determine the cause for the crash.
Maybe one driver was speeding; maybe one or more drivers was under the influence of drugs or alcohol; maybe a driver was distracted by his cell phone. What happens when more than one person is at fault?
There are two legal terms that cover a situation in which more than one person is at fault for an accident.
In states that follow the contributory negligence rule, an injured person may not recover any damages if they are found to be partially responsible for an accident. If, for example, Driver A is injured when Driver B changes lanes abruptly.
Driver B is found to be at fault for not looking before changing lanes, and for not signaling. Driver A, however, was looking at his passenger and did not see Driver B until it was too late. In a contributory negligence state, Driver A would be unable to collect any damages from Driver B.
A pedestrian hit by a car in a contributory negligence state may have no recourse against the driver if he was walking against the light, texting on his phone, or not paying attention to his surroundings.
In a comparative negligence state, the actions of both parties examined, and a judge or jury determines the relative fault of each. If an injured party is found to be partially at fault in an accident, he may still recover damages, but the amount may be reduced.
Some examples for comparative negligence might be: Driver A was injured in an accident and sues Driver B. The judge or jury determines that Driver B was 75% responsible for the accident, and Driver A was 25% responsible.
If Driver A’s damages amounted to $100,000, he could only collect $75,000 from Driver B.
Comparative negligence in Colorado is governed by statute. The Colorado statute provides that a person may recover damages in proportion to the degree of negligence of each party.
The judge or jury is instructed first to determine the amount of damages that would be awarded if there were no negligence on the part of the injured party. Then, the judge or jury must determine the relative fault of each party. The amount of damages awarded is the total amount of damages minus an amount equal to the degree of fault assigned to the injured party.
If it is found that the injured party’s fault is more than 50%, he will receive nothing, the rationale being that a person should not be able to recover damages if he was mostly responsible for his own injuries.
If there is more than one defendant in an accident case, the 50% rule still applies, but the relative negligence of the injured party is measured against all of the defendants, not each individually.
For example, if Defendant A is found to be 70% responsible, Defendant B is found to be 10% responsible, and the injured party is found to be 20% responsible, the injured party may still be awarded damages, even though his degree of responsibility may have been less than that of Defendant B.
Sometimes, defendants in accident injury cases will argue that some other person, not one of the parties to the lawsuit, bore some of the responsibility for the accident. If the defendant can establish that a non-party was partially at fault, his liability may be reduced.
Accident cases involving multiple defendants, and those in which comparative negligence is an issue, are complex, and require attorneys who are willing and able to go to court when needed.
At Springs Law Group, we try to settle each case if possible, but when a fair settlement cannot be reached, we are not afraid to take on even the most complex case.
LAST CLEAR CHANCE
The doctrine of “last clear chance” is another means of assigning fault in an accident. If the injured person was partially at fault, but the defendant still had a chance to avoid the accident, the injured person may still recover.
For example, if a pedestrian did not look before crossing a street, but the driver pf the vehicle who stuck him had enough time to avoid the accident, the driver may still be held responsible for the pedestrian’s injuries.
Insurance companies are always looking for ways to minimize the amounts they must pay, and trying to assign blame to the injured person is one way they may use to do that.
Whenever there is any question of who was at fault for an accident, it is important to talk to a personal injury lawyer immediately. If you inadvertently say something that might be interpreted as a partial admission of fault, your right to recover for your injuries may be reduced.
Even something as innocuous as, “I should have seen him coming,” might be used by an insurance company as a reason to assign part of the blame to you, ultimately reducing the amount you might collect.