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How does comparative fault work in California?

Sometimes determining fault in a car accident is relatively straight forward. For example, if a motorist in California is struck by a drunk driver or is rear-ended while waiting at a red light, it can generally be shown that the other driver is at fault. Drunk drivers are breaking their duty of care to drive reasonably under the circumstances and, likewise, a motorist who rear-ends another motorist may have been distracted, speeding or following too close, all breaches of their duty of care.

However, other times the circumstances surrounding a car accident are more complex. The other driver might have been drunk, distracted or violating a traffic law, but what if you were also speeding, had your eyes off the road or in some other way contributed to the accident. Does this mean you cannot collect damages if you choose to pursue a personal injury lawsuit following the crash?

California is a "pure comparative negligence" state when it comes to tort law. This means that if a lawsuit goes to trial, the jury will determine at what percent each party was at fault and reduce each party's liability per that percentage. For example, if a motorist suffered $100,000 in damages, but was 10 percent at fault, he or she would be awarded $90,000 in compensation.

California law recognizes that no one is perfect, but that should not bar a person from being able to recover the compensation they are owed entirely. Keep in mind that this post is general in nature and cannot serve as legal advice or promise any result in any legal filing. Those who need more information about how comparative fault applies to their case may want to seek professional guidance.

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