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FAQ: What Does Comparative Negligence Mean?

When negotiating a settlement after an injury accident, either in direct talks or in the courts, you’re likely to hear the term comparative negligence. This is a legal concept in which fault is assigned in percentages according to how much each party contributed to the accident (“negligence,” by definition). This percentage can reduce the amount of your settlement.

To illustrate: If the other driver rear-ended you in traffic but one of your brake lights was out, the defendant’s attorney could contend that you were partially negligent because his client would have had a more difficult time seeing your car. If the argument holds, you might be assigned 30 percent of the fault while the defendant is assigned 70 percent, effectively resulting in a settlement that is 30 percent less than if the other driver were completely at fault.

Comparative versus contributory negligence

Comparative negligence emerged as a modified response to another legal term, contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, if the defendant could show that you contributed to the accident in any way, your entire claim could be nullified (in other words, the defendant must be 100 percent to blame, or not at all). Only a handful of states still follow contributory negligence; most others, including Georgia, use some form of comparative negligence to determine settlements.

“Modified” comparative negligence

Another aspect to consider with comparative negligence is what percentage of negligence makes someone legally liable. A few states practice true comparative negligence, where if you’re 30 percent negligent in an accident, you’re responsible for 30 percent of the cost, period. However, Georgia is among a number of states that implements modified comparative negligence. This means if you sue someone in an injury accident, you only receive a settlement if your share of the blame is less than 50 percent. In simpler terms, you must prove that the other party bears most of the blame for the accident in order to win your case. If the court finds you were at least 50 percent responsible for the accident, you do not collect.

As you can see, the idea comparative negligence can work either for or against you. It enables you to collect even if you were partially negligent in an accident, but it also places the burden of proof on you to show that the other party bears more blame than you. This is why you need an experienced personal injury attorney representing your interests. For a free case evaluation, call Sutton Slover at 404.768.0292.