How Does Pennsylvania Law Address Contributory Negligence?
When you’ve been hurt in an accident caused by the carelessness of other persons, one of the keys to determining liability and recovering damages for your losses is establishing fault. Typically, when more than one person or entity is at fault, the jury must allocate responsibility. The total amount of damages (losses suffered in the accident) are then divided among the parties based on extent of liability.
But what happens if you contributed in some way to causing the accident? How will that affect your ability to collect compensation for your injuries?
Under the law as it had developed over centuries, the legal principle of “contributory negligence” was applied whenever an injured party contributed in any way to causing his or her own injuries. Under that legal doctrine, if the injured party engaged in any negligence or carelessness that contributed to his or her injury, there could be no recovery.
Because of this legal principle, defense attorneys would look for even the most minimal carelessness by an injured party and ask the court to dismiss the personal injury lawsuit. Because of increased concerns that the doctrine of contributory negligence led to unfair results—a grossly negligent defendant could avoid liability even if the injured party was only minimally or nominally negligent—the contributory negligence principle has been replaced in all states, including Pennsylvania, with a new legal rule, known as comparative negligence.
With comparative negligence, the court makes a determination of the total amount of losses, then makes an allocation of blame or liability. The total amount of the losses is then reduced by the percentage by which the injured party is to blame. For example, if a person suffers $100,000 in losses, but is deemed to be 25% responsible, he or she would only recover $75,000.
As comparative negligence has evolved, it has taken two distinct forms—pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. In a pure comparative negligence state, an injured party will always receive something, unless he or she is ruled to be 100% responsible. In a modified comparative negligence state, an injured party will typically only receive compensation if his or her negligence fell below the statutory minimum (typically 50%). Pennsylvania is a modified comparative negligence state.
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