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Negligence And Determining Legal Liability

When you are involved in a car accident, you may hear your car insurance company or lawyers (if involved) discuss liability and negligence at length. These terms can be confusing and are sometimes confused with one another.

This page will walk you through the definitions of liability and negligence and how these terms are applicable to you, as well the impact on your car insurance claims.

Liability vs. Negligence

What Is Liability?

When you are involved in an accident and decide to pursue compensation, one of the first things that needs to be determined is which party is liable for the accident (in other words, who caused the collision).

Liability is determined under local, state, and federal laws.

What Is Negligence?

Negligence occurs when a party fails to take reasonable measures to protect others who visit their property or come in contact with them.

This means that while there was no intent to do harm, an accident occurred due to someone’s careless actions or neglect to do something.

Duty of Reasonable Care

Reasonable care refers to actions that should reasonably be taken to avoid harming another person. Examples of taking reasonable care while driving include:

  • Driving within the speed limit.
  • Watching the road.
  • Avoiding distractions, such as texting and driving.
  • Maintaining vehicle safety by getting necessary repairs done.
  • Stopping at red lights and stop signs.
  • Yielding when appropriate.

Negligence occurs when a driver has the duty to act in a reasonable manner and fails to do so.

What Is the Difference?

Liability is your legal responsibility to do something, such as pay for damages in an accident for which you are at fault.

Negligence, on the other hand, means you didn’t take responsibility or care in a situation, e.g., running a red light while driving.

If you were found to be negligent, you will be liable for accident-related damages.

What Happens When More Than One Person Is at Fault?

When more than one person is at fault, there is no simple answer to who is responsible for paying the resulting expenses or providing financial restitution to the party that was injured or wronged.

In these cases, comparative or contributory negligence may be used to make decisions about fault.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence means that both parties were somewhat at fault. In this case, the judge will hold each party responsible for a portion of the damages.

Example: Say you were in an accident and your car insurance company found you 40% at fault. You would only be eligible to receive 60% of the total compensation available, as your award is limited by the percentage of your fault.

Keep in mind that states laws vary when it comes to comparative negligence. In some states, you may not be able to collect any compensation if you were over 50% at fault. Check with your auto insurance agent.

Contributory Negligence

With contributory negligence, a plaintiff is completely barred from recovering any compensation if they were found to be at fault at all. This was true even if the fault of the opposing part was much more egregious.

Most states have abolished contributory negligence and determine the outcomes of cases using the comparative negligence model.

Lawsuits and Negligence Claims

If you feel that you have a claim based on the negligence of another party, you must act immediately. Each state has a statute of limitations on negligence claims. These statutes vary based on the state, location, and facts of the case, plus other factors.

If you plan on pursuing a negligence lawsuit, contact a lawyer immediately to discuss the facts of your claim. Your lawyer can help you determine if you should pursue your claim, and the best way to obtain the compensation that you deserve.

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