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Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

January 11, 2017 General


If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s carelessness or negligence, you have a right in Pennsylvania to pursue damages for all your losses. But what if the accident was partially your fault—are you still able to seek compensation for your injuries? The answer, as with most issues, is “it depends.”

The negligence laws in Pennsylvania, as in other states, have evolved mostly out of the common law, what we call “judge-made law.” For centuries, the rule of contributory negligence applied in personal injury cases. This doctrine held that a plaintiff who contributed in any way to his or her injury was barred from any recovery. This led defense attorneys to look for any evidence that an injured party may have been careless or negligent.

Because of the perception that such a rule unfairly discriminated against individuals who engaged in insignificant acts of negligence, the concept of contributory negligence has been replaced, across the country, with the principle of comparative negligence. There are, however, two approaches to comparative negligence.

In a number of states, the doctrine of “pure comparative negligence” applies. In these jurisdictions, a jury is instructed to determine the full amount of a plaintiff’s losses, but also to assess a percentage of liability on behalf of the injured party. For example, a jury may conclude that the total losses are $750,000, but also find that the plaintiff was 10% responsible. The damage award would then be reduced by $75,000.

In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, the concept of “modified comparative negligence” is the rule. Under this approach, a plaintiff may only recover damages if his or her liability is less than a specified amount, typically 50%. Accordingly, if an injured party is more responsible than others for his losses, there can be no recovery.

Contact Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie, Seelaus & Kraft LLP

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie, Seelaus & Kraft LLP, we have fought for the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact us online.

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