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New Jersey Motor-Vehicle-Accident-Injury Claims

How Does Your Own Negligence Affect a Claim for Injuries?

New Jersey Motor-Vehicle-Accident-Injury ClaimsIn a personal injury lawsuit, one of the primary things to determine is liability—who caused the accident. It’s not uncommon for a number of parties to be at fault, including the injured party. What happens if you contribute to the chain of events that leads to an accident and causes you injury? Do you still have legal recourse? The answer—maybe.

Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence

For centuries, the principle of contributory negligence determined the rights of injured parties. If you engaged in any action that contributed in any way to the accident and your injuries, you were without legal recourse. Under such a rule, the objective of defense counsel was clear—find any way (even the slightest) that the injured party contributed to causing the accident and get the claim dismissed.

The contributory negligence approach often resulted in great inequity; for example, grossly negligent defendants could escape liability entirely by showing an insignificant careless act by the plaintiff. For that reason, New Jersey abandoned contributory negligence and instituted the concept of comparative negligence in personal injury claims.

Under the theory of comparative negligence, the court first determines the full amount of an injured party’s losses. Next, the court determines the extent to which the injured party caused his or her losses, expressed as a percentage of liability. The court then reduces the damage award by that percentage. For example, if the total damages are $1,000,000 and the plaintiff is was 15% responsible, the total damage award will be $850,000 ($1,000,000 minus $150,000).

Modified vs. Pure Comparative Negligence

The 45 states that have adopted comparative negligence principles take two different approaches:

  • Pure comparative negligence—Under this scheme, an injured party always receives something, even if his or her liability is deemed to be greater than that of other parties.
  • Modified comparative negligence—With this approach, an injured party may only recover compensation if his or her fault falls below a certain threshold, typically 50%.

New Jersey follows the modified comparative negligence approach.

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