Can I Get Compensated if I Was Partially at Fault for My Car Accident?

Some collisions are caused by a single driver’s actions.  For example, when an inattentive driver rear-ends a vehicle stopped at a red light, the rear-ending driver is clearly to blame.  However, there are many instances where fault isn’t so clear-cut, and both drivers share some of the responsibility.  If this occurs, can an injury victim still recover damages?  Or must the victim prove that the other driver was 100% at fault?  In this article, car accident injury lawyer Darwin Overson explains how compensation is affected when multiple drivers share partial blame for a multi-vehicle crash in Utah.

How Are Car Accident Victims Compensated for Injuries in UT?

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Before you start learning about the impact of shared blame, it’s helpful to have a general understanding of how car accident compensation works in Utah.

Every single motorist on Utah’s roads has a responsibility to drive safely, obey traffic laws, and take reasonable precautions.  When drivers cause accidents by taking reckless or careless actions, such as driving while intoxicated, they can potentially be held liable for any wrongful death or personal injury which results.

Under Utah’s “no-fault” system, drivers initially turn to their own insurers for injury compensation.  It doesn’t matter which party caused the accident: your own insurer will compensate you $3,000 in “Personal Injury Protection” (PIP) benefits, no matter which driver was at fault.  This is called a “first-party claim.”

If the costs of treating your injury exceed $3,000, or if your injury meets certain physical criteria (e.g. permanent disfigurement, permanent impairment), you may sue the other driver or file a “third-party claim” against the other driver’s insurance company.  In this scenario, you will be required to establish that the other driver caused the accident, a task which must be accomplished by presenting medical records, expert opinions, photographs of the crash site, eyewitness testimony, and other evidence.

But what happens if you were partially at fault?

Modified Comparative Negligence: How Shared Fault Affects Your Ability to Recover Damages

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Car accidents are often caused by multiple drivers.  When this occurs, a certain portion of fault must be assigned to each party.  This portion is expressed as a percentage: for instance, a driver may be 10% at fault, 20% at fault, 30% at fault, and so forth.  In turn, the driver’s ability to recover compensation (“damages”) will be affected by their assigned portion of fault, depending on which doctrine is followed in their state:

  • Pure contributory negligence
  • Pure comparative fault (pure comparative negligence)
  • Modified comparative fault (modified comparative negligence)

The harshest system is doubtlessly pure contributory negligence, in which injury victims are completely barred from recovering any damages whatsoever if they are even as little as 1% at fault.  Under this system, a driver could be 99% to blame for an accident and still walk away without paying a dime to the injury victim.

Fortunately for accident victims, Utah is not a pure contributory negligence state.  Instead, Utah follows the doctrine of modified comparative negligence.

This doctrine is highly similar to pure comparative negligence, in which compensation is reduced to reflect the injury victim’s degree of fault for the crash.  For instance, if an accident victim is awarded $100,000 but is found to be 20% at fault, their award will be reduced to $80,000 to reflect their 20% share of blame.

Utah’s modified comparative negligence doctrine works the same way.  However, there is one important distinction between these two systems: in pure comparative negligence states, injury victims can recover damages regardless of their degree of fault, meaning a driver could be as much as 99% to blame for an accident and still recover damages, albeit reduced to 1% of the award.

In modified comparative negligence states like Utah, drivers cannot recover damages if their degree of fault exceeds certain thresholds.  In Utah, this threshold is 50%.  If you are 50% or more at fault, you cannot recover any compensation.  If you are 49% at fault or less, you can recover compensation, but the award will be reduced proportionally to your share of blame for the accident.  For instance, if you were awarded $100,000 but were found to be 30% at fault, your award would be reduced to $70,000.  If you were found to be 49% at fault, your award would be reduced to $51,000.  If you were found to be 50% at fault, you would not be able to recover any damages.

Our Utah Car Accident Lawyers Can Help

If you were injured in a car accident, it’s important to consult with an experienced Utah personal injury attorney about the legal options that may be available to you.  Depending on how and why your accident occurred, you could be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other expenses.  Call the law offices of Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 895-3143 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation today.

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