When it comes to determining negligence in Pennsylvania, like many other states, you have comparative fault laws that apply to the amount you can recover in compensation. This means that if both parties in an accident are at fault to some degree, then neither can recover the full amount of their damages. Whichever party is least at fault (under 50%) will be able to recover their damages after subtracting their own percentage of fault. This is also called contributory negligence.
Whenever you’ve been injured in an accident that may have been partially your fault, you should contact a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim.
How to Understand Negligence
Negligence refers to any sort of wrongdoing or carelessness that causes injury or harm to another. This means that the injured party has the right to seek compensation and file a civil claim against the at-fault party who caused the injury through their negligence.
Another way to understand negligence is to view it in light of the ‘duty of care.’ The duty of care is the responsibility that any person has to avoid causing harm to another. Drivers have a duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians on the road, so they have to drive safely. Doctors have a duty of care to their patients, so they have to act appropriately. Property owners have a duty of care to their visitors, so they have to ensure that their property is safe for those visitors.
When somebody breaches their duty of care, they have been negligent. For example, if a driver endangers others by driving recklessly or being intoxicated, the driver is negligent. If a doctor fails to perform a necessary test or treatment, the doctor is negligent. If a property owner fails to ensure that a swimming pool is safely off limits to children, the property owner is negligent.
How to Determine Fault After an Accident
Insurance adjusters, lawyers, judges, and jury members must determine fault by carefully examining the facts of the case and establishing which party’s actions caused or contributed to the accident that occurred. Anyone who has been negligent by acting in ways that are not safe and do not uphold their duty of care can be determined to be at fault for the accident.
When assigning a percentage of fault to individuals who have been involved in an accident, there are many factors to consider. For example, consider the evidence involved in a car accident:
- Police Accident Reports and Citations
- Accident Scene and Vehicle Damage Photos
- Witness Testimonies
- Cell Phone Records
- Camera Footage (surveillance or red light cams)
An attorney can help you to figure out which types of evidence you need and will start gathering that evidence to help build your case.
Comparative Negligence Laws in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence laws can be found in the Pennsylvania General Assembly Statute §7102. These laws indicate that contributory negligence does not mean that the plaintiff cannot recover damages, as long as the defendant was more at fault or negligent than the plaintiff.
Thus, after an accident, you may establish that you were partially at fault, but you can still recover damages. Each person in the accident will be assigned a percentage of fault, which establishes how much your actions contributed to the accident. Pennsylvania follows a comparative negligence rule that limits your ability to recover damages based on how much fault is assigned to you. If you are 51% at fault or more, you cannot recover damages. If you are 50% at fault or less, you can.
There is then a correlation between your percentage of fault and how much you can recover for your injuries. If you are 10% at fault, you can only recover 90% of your damages. If you are 20% at fault, you can only recover 80% of your damages, and so forth.
Pennsylvania‘s Fair Share Act
In 2011, the Senate Bill 1131 put the Fair Share Act of Pennsylvania into legislation. This act sates that a defendant can only be held liable for the percentage of fault that is assigned to them through the investigation of negligence in the accident.
This is especially relevant when there are multiple defendants. In a car accident that involved more than two vehicles, the injured victim can file a suit against each of the other at-fault drivers. However, if one driver is found to be 55% at fault and the other is 45% at fault, then they aren’t going to split the damages down the middle. With the Fair Share Act, the first at-fault driver will have to pay 55% of the damages, and the second at-fault driver will have to pay 45% of the damages. The exception is a situation where one defendant is 60% at fault or more, in which case that defendant will be liable for the full amount of awarded damages to the victim.
An Attorney Can Help
Proving and assigning fault is going to be a major part of any injury case, and it can be more complicated than you might think at first. This is why it’s such a good idea to contact an attorney to discuss your case. The other party can claim that you are more at fault than you actually are, and a lawyer can help you to prove that you were less at fault than the other party claims. The goal is to recover the compensation that you deserve for your injuries, and an Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can help.
The sooner you contact an attorney, the better off you will be. Your attorney will have more time to gather evidence and establish contributory fault if you seek legal representation right away.