When a lawsuit is brought for damages caused by an accident, the judge or jury must decide who caused the accident, since more than one person may have been negligent, including the person who is bringing the lawsuit. Once the amount or percentage of negligence has been determined for each person, damages are awarded as determined by the system of fault the state follows.
There are four predominant systems used throughout the United States: “contributory negligence,” “pure comparative fault,” and “modified comparative fault,” which has two different modification options. There are also a handful of states that have their own unique systems of determining damage awards.
Florida follows the doctrine of pure comparative fault.
Contributory negligence will not allow the person presenting the lawsuit to recover if it is decided that they were responsible for the accident in any way. Thus, if the judge or jury decides the person who is presenting the lawsuit is fault in any way (even a 1% fault) for causing his own injuries, the person presenting the lawsuit may not recover any damages.
Pure Comparative Negligence
In a pure comparative negligence system, the judge or jury decides how much fault each party is responsible for, and then apportions the amount of damages accordingly. For example, if a person is found to be 20 percent at fault for causing his or her own injuries, then the other party or parties responsible will only have to pay 80 percent of the plaintiff’s damages.
Modified Comparative Fault
There are also states that use a modified comparative fault system. It’s similar in a way to a pure comparative negligence system, as a judge or jury decides how much fault should be allocated to each person responsible for an accident and apportions the amount of damages accordingly. But it differs from a pure comparative negligence system, in that a limit on the percentage of fault of the person bringing the lawsuit is used. There are two different limits used: the 50 percent fault rule and the 51 percent fault rule.
50 Percent Fault Rule
If the 50 percent fault rule is used, the person bringing the lawsuit cannot recover if he or she is 50 percent or more at fault, but if he or she is 49 percent or less at fault, recovery is reduced by his or her degree of fault. Thus, a person who is found to be 50 percent at fault will recover nothing, whereas a person who is found to be 49 percent at fault can recover 51 percent of his or her damages.
51 Percent Fault Rule
If the 51 percent fault rule is used, the person bringing the lawsuit cannot recover if he or she is 51 percent or more at fault. This is based on the idea that a plaintiff who is more negligent than a defendant should not be able to recover anything. Here, if the person bringing the lawsuit is 50 percent at fault, he or she can recover 50 percent of the damages, but cannot recover anything if found to be 51 percent or more at fault.
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