How Does Florida’s “Comparative Fault” Rule Work in Car Accident Cases?
How many times have you seen–or been involved in–an accident where both drivers get out of their cars and immediately start pointing the finger at one another? Such blame-shifting often continues right up through a personal injury lawsuit. Defendants often try and argue that the plaintiff’s actions either contributed to or outright caused the accident. This is a very common scenario when someone is injured when turning on a green light (not green arrow) and the other driver has the right of way.
What you need to know about such tactics is that it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Florida follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule in personal injury cases. This means that if the defendant can prove the plaintiff was partly at-fault, a jury must take that into account when deciding liability. The defendant may not escape all responsibility for an accident under comparative negligence, but it can affect how much money the plaintiff is able to ultimately recover.
Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence replaced an earlier rule in personal injury cases known as contributory negligence. Under contributory negligence, a plaintiff had to be completely blameless to recover any damages. For example, say a jury decided that the plaintiff was 1 percent responsible for a car accident. Under contributory negligence, the plaintiff would walk away with nothing, even if the jury also found the defendant was 99 percent responsible.
Only a handful of U.S. states still follow contributory negligence. The majority of states currently apply some form of comparative negligence. Florida is what we call a “pure” comparative negligence state. This means that there is no minimum threshold that a plaintiff needs to clear before receiving damages.
For example, say in a hypothetical car accident, a jury finds the defendant 40 percent responsible and the plaintiff 60 percent. The plaintiff’s total damages from the accident came to $100,000. Under pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff would receive 40 percent of that figure, or $40,000, reflecting the defendant’s proportional share of fault.
If that same accident took place in Georgia, however, the plaintiff would get nothing. Georgia and most other states that follow comparative negligence require a plaintiff’s share of fault be no more than 50 or 51 percent to recover damages. Again, Florida has no such threshold, so in theory a plaintiff could be 99 percent at-fault and still get something.
Admissions at the Accident Scene Will Not Make Your Case
A question we often get is, “Does it matter if the other driver admitted fault at the scene?” For instance, when the police come to take an official accident report, the defendant may have said they were responsible for the accident. Would such an admission prevent the defendant from later raising a comparative negligence defense?
In short, no. Florida law actually states that statements made by a driver to law enforcement for purposes of completing a crash report are not admissible in civil court. So any admission of fault under such circumstances would not automatically negate a comparative negligence argument. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent the defendant from changing their story at trial and trying to pin the blame for the accident on the plaintiff.
This is why, if you have been injured in a car crash, it is critical to work with an experienced Parkland auto accident lawyer who can advise you of your rights and zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the trial lawyers at Lyons & Snyder today to schedule a free consultation.