If you are stopped at a stoplight when a careless driver crashes into the back of your car, you can hold that negligent driver liable to compensate you for your damages. This is the legal principle that underpins most personal injury lawsuits.
But what if your accident was not that simple? What if both you and the other driver did something careless that contributed to the accident? Can you recover compensation from a negligent driver if your own negligence contributed to the accident in which you were injured?
To pose the question another way: Can you recover compensation if you were partly at fault?
Under Minnesota law, under certain circumstances you can. To understand why, we must look to a legal concept known as comparative negligence.
Minnesota follows a legal model known as “modified comparative negligence.” If more than one party’s negligence contributed to an accident, a court assigns a percentage of fault to each party. So long as a party’s share of the fault was no more than 50%, they can recover compensation from the other party. However, their recovery must be reduced in proportion to their share of the fault.
Under this system, if an injured party was 25% at fault, their recovery must be reduced by 25%. If an injured party was 60% at fault, they can’t recover anything.
For the plaintiff or the defense
Comparative negligence can be used by either the plaintiff or the defense in a personal injury lawsuit. The following example can illustrate how.
First, imagine an accident involving cars driven by Jane and Linda. Jane is injured and sues Linda for $100,000 in damages, including her medical bills and lost wages. The evidence suggests that Linda was mostly at fault, but Linda also presents evidence that Jane did not have her headlights on at the time of the accident, which happened on a rainy day.
The court reviews the evidence and determines that Linda’s negligence made her 75% at fault, and that Jane’s negligence made her 25% at fault.
Because Jane’s fault was below 51%, she can collect compensation from Linda. But because Jane bears 25% of the fault, her compensation is reduced by 25%. Linda now must pay Jane $75,000 instead of the full $100,000.