How a Personal Injury Lawyer Near Monterey Park, California Can Help Me
Not all Southern California residents love their cars, but most are dependent upon them as their primary means of getting around. Some estimates indicate that on average, Californians drive more than 1.5 times the national average. California traffic is legendary, and multi-vehicle accidents are commonplace.
In lawsuits brought by the victim of accidents involving multiple drivers, it's often the case that more than one driver was at fault. Perhaps one was speeding but another was adjusting his radio and took his eyes off the road. And what if the victim himself contributed to the accident?
Various statutory rules have evolved to address these questions.
Contributory and Comparative Fault
Under a contributory fault system, the plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she is found to have “contributed” to the accident in any degree. Under this system, even in the case of two defendants and a plaintiff who were determined to be, respectively, 75 percent, 24 percent and 1 percent responsible for an accident, recovery was barred. Though the potential for unfair results under a contributory negligence system seems obvious, it nevertheless was observed in the United States for more than 200 years.
By the late 1960s, proposals began to surface for more equitable approaches to apportioning fault. This led to the eventual adoption of so-called “comparative” fault laws, either by legislative action or court decision. Comparative fault is now the controlling law in all but a handful of states. Under this system, a plaintiff's fault will reduce the total damages to which he or she is entitled, but usually does not totally preclude recovery.
There are three variants of comparative fault laws:
“Pure” Comparative Fault – This is the most liberal form of comparative negligence. It allows recovery of proportionately reduced damages, even if the plaintiff is determined to have been at greater fault than any defendant. California follows this rule
“Not Greater Than” (or “50%-50%”) Comparative Fault – The plaintiff may recover, but only if he or she was not at greater fault than the defendant
“Less Than” (or “51%-49%”) Comparative Fault – The plaintiff may recover, provided he or she was less at fault than the defendant
Whatever rule applies, it is ordinarily the responsibility of the finder of fact (the jury in a jury trial or the judge in a trial without a jury) to determine percentages of fault. In most cases, it is at best an inexact science. Unless patently incorrect, however, the fact finder's apportionment of blame will rarely be questioned by an appellate court.
Joint and Several Liability
As the old adage says, “One can't get blood from a stone.” Simply obtaining a judgment does not guarantee that a defendant has the assets or insurance needed to satisfy it. But what about situations in which multiple defendants are responsible for an injury but only some have insurance or assets. Must the plaintiff be content with recovering from the financially solvent defendants their portion of the damages?
This answer to this question depends upon whether a state recognizes the principle of “joint and several liability.” Under this doctrine, a plaintiff to recover all of the damages to which he or she is entitled from any defendant who can pay, even if that defendant was only partially at fault. The paying defendant may claim “contribution” from others, albeit it will face the same “blood from a stone” problem.
In California, the principle of joint and several liability applies in negligence cases, but only to medical expenses and other “out of pocket” losses that can be specifically calculated. So-called “general” or “pain and suffering” damages and punitive damages may be collected from a defendant only in proportion to its degree of fault.
Call (213) 632-8009 today to reach our Monterey Park office.
NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.