By Wes Larsen
Not everything is cut and dry in a motor vehicle collision injury case. For example, what happens if both parties in a two-car collision share blame (such as if one party was speeding at the same moment that the other party ran a stop sign and hit them)? If one of the parties at fault is injured, can they still qualify for a damages verdict or a monetary settlement from the other person’s insurance company?
The answer to this question is complex and fact-specific, and depends greatly on the laws of the individual state where the accident happened. For example, some states allow an injured person to recover damages for personal injuries caused by a third party only if the fault allocated to the injured person is less than the fault of the third party (allocation of fault is something determined by a jury at trial). Other states allow an injured party to recover damages no matter how much fault is attributed to them, as long as their claimed damages are reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to them by a jury. Let’s take a look at the laws of a few states in the western U.S. to compare how a partially at-fault injured person might still obtain a recovery:
While the Comparative Negligence Doctrine (also known as Contributory Negligence) allows an injured person to recover their damages to the degree that the damages are not their own fault, Idaho has adopted a modified version of the Comparative Negligence Doctrine that makes things tough for some injured people. The state allows a person injured in Idaho to recover for their damages from the other party as long as the injured person’s degree of fault is less than that of the other party. However, if the other driver does not share at least 51% of the blame for the collision, then the injured party is entitled to nothing. The injured person’s damages also must be reduced proportionate to their own degree of fault, which is typical in most states.
So, for example, if Ann is injured by Ben but has 30% of the blame for the collision, then Ann can recover the remaining 70% of her damages from Ben. If, however, Ann has 50% or more of the blame, then she is entitled to recover none of her damages from Ben, even though Ben is still up to 50% at fault for Ann’s injuries.
This same standard applies in the event there are multiple parties in the collision, as Ann’s percentage of fault must be less than the combined percentages of fault of all the other parties. This is a tough standard for people injured in Idaho, since it requires them to bear the entire burden of their own damages even if they were only 50% at fault.
(Source: Idaho Code § 6-801, found at https://legislature.idaho.gov/statutesrules/idstat/title6/t6ch8/sect6-801/)
Utah’s Comparative Negligence law is nearly identical to Idaho’s law. In Utah, you can obtain a recovery from the other party as long as the jury finds you less than 50% at fault for your own injuries. So if Ann has 49% of the blame for the collision, she can still go after Ben for 51% of her damages. However, if she’s found to have 50% or more of the blame, she is entitled to recover nothing. This is another unfortunate situation in which the law penalizes an injured person and bars them from recovering any of their damages even if they’re only 50% at fault.
(Source: Utah Code Annotated § 78B-5-818, found at https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title78B/Chapter5/78B-5-S818.html)
Washington State applies a different version of the Comparative Negligence standard from Idaho and Utah, known as Pure Comparative Fault. This standard benefits the injured person far more than Idaho’s modified standard. In Washington, an injured person is not barred from recovery from the other party simply because the injured person is more at fault than the other party. Washington simply requires that the injured person’s damages be reduced by their assigned degree of fault.
So, even if Ann is 99% at fault for her own injuries, she can still bring a claim for the remaining 1% against Ben. The jury at trial will determine the percentage of fault Ann has for her own injuries, and will also determine the total amount of Ann’s damages stemming from the collision. The judge will then reduce the jury’s damages verdict by Ann’s assigned percentage of fault.
(Source: Revised Code of Washington § 4.22.005, found at https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=4.22.005)
Alaska follows a Pure Comparative Fault standard similar to that of Washington State. Ann is subject to no percentage of fault requirement, and her damages are simply reduced by whatever her assigned percentage of fault for the collision may be.
So, like in Washington, Ann can recover 1% of her damages from Ben even if she is 99% to blame for the collision.
Montana’s Modified Comparative Negligence law is almost the same as those of Idaho and Utah, but with a slight difference that greatly benefits injured people. An injured person in Montana can only recover their damages if their percentage of fault does not exceed that of all other parties combined.
In other words, Ann cannot be more than 50% at fault for her own injuries. If a jury finds Ann and Ben equally at fault (i.e., 50/50), then Ann can still recover 50% of her damages from Ben. This subtle variation from Idaho and Utah law is massive in its practical application because juries often prefer to assign equal fault to the two at-fault parties rather than nitpick actual percentages of fault.
So, unlike in the Utah and Idaho scenarios above, Ann is still entitled to a recovery even if she and Ben share the same percentage of fault for the collision. She therefore takes home half of her damages in Montana, whereas in Idaho and Utah she would take home nothing.
(Source: Montana Code Annotated § 27-1-702, found at https://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0270/chapter_0010/part_0070/section_0020/0270-0010-0070-0020.html)
Oregon falls in with Montana and has adopted a Modified Comparative Negligence standard in favor of the injured. A person injured in Oregon can recover their damages as long as the injured person is no more than 50% at fault for their own injury.
Ann can therefore still recover 50% of her damages from Ben in the event a jury finds her 50% at fault for the collision. If she has 51% of the blame or more, she is entitled to no recovery from Ben. So, if a jury finds Ann and Ben to be equally at fault for Ann’s injuries, then Ann still takes home 50% of her damages from Ben. This standard is not as favorable to the injured as the Pure Comparative Fault standards of Alaska and Washington, but it’s still better than those of Utah and Idaho.
(Source: Oregon Revised Statutes § 31.600, found at https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/31.600)
As you can see, an injured person’s right to recover their damages from an at-fault party differs significantly by state if the injured party happens to share some blame. Because auto insurance companies are astutely aware of the laws and typical jury verdicts in each state, your potential to obtain a settlement/recovery depends heavily on state comparative negligence laws regardless of whether you file a lawsuit or try to resolve your claim with the insurance company out of court.
Our firm is licensed in all of the above states and more. We’re happy to help you navigate the law and pursue the justice to which you’re entitled.