Comparative Negligence in NJ Personal Injury Cases
Most people are unaware that financial compensation for injuries from an accident may be reduced or even eliminated if you were partially at fault for the accident, according to New Jersey’s comparative negligence law. When it comes to the comparative negligence system in NJ, there are a variety of rules that may affect how much you can recover. And the rules for recovering money for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage in New Jersey personal injury cases can be complicated. The degree of fault and associated implications under modified fault can vary significantly, depending on the circumstances of your accident. If you have been injured due to another person or business’s negligence, it is important to have your individual case examined by a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can determine if and how much you may be able to recover. Our seasoned New Jersey personal injury lawyers are well-versed in the laws on comparative negligence and we can assist you with any questions that you may have about a possible claim. Call 732-825-6120 for a free case evaluation and find out if you may be entitled to economic, non-economic, and potentially even punitive damages.
What is Comparative Negligence?
Comparative negligence refers to the degree of fault for causing an accident assigned to each party involved. When an accident occurs with a resulting personal injury lawsuit, New Jersey’s comparative negligence law mandates that the injured party’s potential recovery should be limited by their degree of fault for contributing to the cause of the accident. This concept, also known as comparative fault or modified fault, can reduce the amount to which a plaintiff is entitled in a personal injury case.
The specific law that addresses comparative negligence is known as the New Jersey Comparative Negligence Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1). According to this act, juries in personal injury cases are tasked with determining the extent to which each party involved in the matter is responsible for the incident that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. In other words, the jury will evaluate the circumstances of the case to determine how much each person, business, or organization was responsible for contributing to the accident happening. When the injured party bears some degree of fault for the accident, the amount of compensation (or damages) they are able to recover may be limited by their percentage of fault.
The degree of fault is calculated as a percentage of the total cause of the accident, which is 100%. For instance, if a plaintiff is 20% at fault for causing the incident that led their injury, their recoverable damages would be reduced by 20%. Conversely, the defendant or defendants would be responsible for paying 80% in damages.
Can You Recover Compensation if You are More at Fault than the Other Party?
Comparative negligence allows for modifications of damages awards based on each party’s respective responsibility, with certain limitations. When the injured party has a degree of fault that is less than 50%, the amount to which they are entitled is modified in light of their percentage of fault. It is important to note that New Jersey has a 50% at fault threshold for recovering damages. This means that if the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible for causing the accident or incident, they are prohibited from receiving an award for compensation. As you might expect, the degree of fault varies significantly based on the specific facts of a personal injury case.
How can Comparative Fault Rules Reduce Damages Awards?
To understand the comparative negligence rules applicable in New Jersey personal injury cases, it can be helpful to look at an auto accident as an example. Assume that you are driving at night. Another person runs a stop sign and collides with your car. The other person’s driving would likely be considered negligent because running a stop sign is unreasonable and basically put you as the other driver at risk for harm. Since it is likely that the other driver hitting you resulted in your injuries, you may prevail in a personal injury lawsuit if you chose to sue. But what if you were driving without your headlights on that night? Failing to turn on your headlights may be evaluated in terms of your degree of fault for causing the accident.
If you win your personal injury lawsuit in court, a jury may award you damages for your medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and other losses associated with your injuries. But the jury would also be tasked with assigning you some of the blame for the accident based on your failure to turn on your headlights. Perhaps comparatively, your percentage of fault was still less than the other driver who failed to stop at a stop sign. If the jury determined you were 20% responsible for the accident and the driver who ran the light was 80% responsible, you would only receive 80% of the original damages awarded. In essence, your damages award would be reduced by the 20% that you were determined to be at fault for the accident. This is “comparative negligence” in action.
What does the 50% Qualifier Do?
Remember, there is one additional wrinkle that you should be aware of: the 50% qualifier that prevents damages recoveries. If you are determined to be more at fault than the other person (even if you were found to be just 51% at fault and the other party was 49% at fault), you cannot recover compensation at all from the other party. The other party must be at least 50% at fault or more for you to recover damages.
Does Fault Affect My Personal Injury Case in NJ?
If you are considering whether to bring a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey, it is highly advisable to speak with an experienced legal professional who can examine the circumstances of your case, explain the rules and laws that may apply, and discuss your options. Our team of highly skilled New Jersey Personal Injury Attorneys is dedicated to assisting you with understanding all of the legal nuances that may impact your potential claim and we can help you assert your rights. Contact us 24/7 for an absolutely free initial consultation. You can also call 732-825-6120 to arrange an appointment at our local offices in New Jersey. We serve all New Jersey areas.