Understanding How to Break Down Levels of Fault and Liability
December 30, 2015
If you have been following the last few blogs, by now you realize the seriousness of car accidents and the injuries they can cause. No one wants to be involved in a car accident, let alone injured in one. But with the prevalence of car accidents in Florida, it’s important to know all the pertinent information that could possibly help you win your case if you happen to be injured in a car accident.
In our Preparing Your Case series, we have already looked at what you should do if you’re hit by an types of damages you could be entitled to if you’re injured in a car accident in Florida.
For our last installment in the series, we will go over the important terms of comparative fault, contributory negligence, and joint and several liability.
When it comes to car accidents, Florida goes by a comparative fault law. What this means is that if you’re involved in a crash, the options available for a settlement will depend upon who was more at fault for the accident.
Florida uses a pure comparative fault rule in auto accident cases. Depending on your amount of fault, you will receive a comparative amount of compensation – hence why it’s called comparative fault.
Let’s look at an example. The damages in your case are $100,000. If the jury decides that you are 30 percent at fault for the accident, then the other driver is 70 percent at fault. Under the comparative fault rule, you will receive the total damages minus your percent of fault. Since the damages are $100,000 and you’re 30 percent at fault, you will receive $70,000. The other driver – who is 70 percent at fault – might then be able to recover the other $30,000 in damages.
In states with modified comparative fault rules, drivers who are more than 50 percent at fault are unable to receive any damages – but that’s not the case in Florida.
Contributory negligence states have harsher settlement rules. If the jury finds a driver any percent at fault for the accident, that driver won’t be able to recover any damages. If you are involved in a car accident and are 5 percent at fault, you’ll get nothing even though the other driver was 95 percent at fault.
Florida used to be a contributory negligence state, but then the 1973 case of Hoffman v. Jones changed that. The Florida Supreme Court renounced contributory negligence in favor of the comparative negligence – or comparative fault – rule.
Contributory negligence is harsh against plaintiffs who may be slightly at fault for an accident. Comparative fault is a fairer, more just system that determines liability based on your share of the blame for an accident. The more you are to blame, the less damages you will receive. The less you are to blame, the more damages you will receive. It just makes sense.
Joint and Several Liability
When Florida was developing the contributory negligence rule, they also began developing joint and several liability. Joint and several liability is a rule where two or more parties can be held independently liable for the total amount of a plaintiff’s personal injury damages, regardless of their percent of fault for the accident.
But joint and several liability complicated comparative fault. Under joint and several liability, the plaintiff could pick which defendant they wanted to collect their damages from. If a defendant was determined to be 20 percent at fault for an accident, the plaintiff could still collect 100 percent of the damages from that defendant.
Because of these complications, Florida no longer uses the joint and several liability rule. Instead, as previously mentioned, our state now goes by a comparative fault rule where your percent of blame is equitable to the amount of damages you can receive.
Florida does use the pure several liability rule if there are multiple defendants, though. Under pure several liability, each defendant is only liable for the assigned portion of damages dependent upon their percentage of blame instead of having to be responsible for all of the blame.
These terms can be difficult to grasp and understand if you’ve been in a car accident. That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced car accident attorney who can explain them to you. Your attorney will also look at the facts of your case and walk you through the process to determine what compensation you are entitled to. A car accident can cause devastating losses physically, financially, and psychologically – don’t wait until it’s too late to talk to a lawyer.
About the Author:
A partner at Lawlor, White & Murphey and a distinguished personal injury lawyer, Ben Murphey tries complex disputes that include civil appeals, maritime and admiralty claims, wrongful death, and labor disputes. Mr. Murphey has been recognized for his excellence in the area of personal injury litigation by being rewarded with a 10/10 Avvo Rating and named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for the last four consecutive years (2011-2014). Mr. Murphey regularly tries cases in state and federal courts around the country, being admitted to practice before all Florida courts and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.