Personal injury cases are unfortunate events where individuals suffer harm due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of others. In such circumstances, the injured party has the right to seek justice by holding the wrongdoer accountable and pursuing compensation for their losses and suffering. However, navigating the legal landscape of personal injury cases can be complex, especially when the concept of "comparative fault" comes into play.
In Missouri, understanding the concept of "comparative fault" is of utmost importance for anyone involved in a personal injury case. Unlike some states that follow a contributory negligence system, Missouri adheres to a "pure comparative fault" rule. This means that even if the injured party (the plaintiff) bears some degree of fault for the accident, they can still recover compensation, albeit reduced by their proportion of fault.
What Is Comparative Fault?
Comparative fault, also known as comparative negligence, is a crucial legal principle employed by courts to address situations where multiple parties share responsibility for an accident that resulted in injuries.
When an injured party, also known as the plaintiff, is found to have contributed to the occurrence of the accident, their potential compensation may be reduced. In other words, if the victim bears some responsibility for the incident, the court or jury will assess the percentage of their liability and deduct that portion from the total amount of damages they can recover.
Different Types of Comparative Fault Systems
Different states use different comparative fault systems.
The two types include the following:
- Pure comparative fault: Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff can still recover damages regardless of their percentage of fault. It means that even if the injured party is deemed 99% responsible for the accident, they can still obtain 1% of the damages to compensate for their losses.
- Modified comparative fault: The modified comparative fault system also reduces the plaintiff's damages based on the proportion of their responsibility for the accident. However, there's a threshold to consider. If the injured party's liability reaches a certain level, typically 50% in some states, they may be barred from recovering any compensation.
Missouri follows a pure comparative fault system, meaning that the injured party can pursue compensation for their injuries and losses regardless of the fault percentage.
The Pure Comparative Fault Rule in Missouri
The pure comparative fault rule in Missouri operates straightforwardly, allowing the plaintiff to seek damages for their injuries despite their degree of responsibility. The compensation awarded to the injured party is reduced proportionally based on the percentage of fault they bear for the accident. Unlike other systems, pure comparative fault does not impose a cap on liability, ensuring no complete bar on recovery unless the plaintiff is determined to be 100% at fault.
In personal injury cases, the pure comparative fault rule directly impacts the plaintiff's compensation. Their contribution to the accident diminishes the damages they can recover. The more fault attributed to the injured party, the greater the reduction in their potential compensation.
Let's delve into an illustrative example to understand how pure comparative fault functions. Suppose the total damages resulting from an accident are determined to be $10,000. During the proceedings, the plaintiff is found to be 30% liable for the incident, while the defendant bears 70% of the responsibility. As a result, the plaintiff can only recover the defendant's portion of responsibility, entitling them to receive $7,000 out of the $10,000 in total damages.
Comparative fault can significantly influence settlement negotiations and trial outcomes. Insurance companies may leverage the comparative fault doctrine to justify offering lower settlement amounts to the injured party. They may argue that the plaintiff's actions contributed to the accident, thus reducing their claim's value. During the trial, legal representatives will search for evidence demonstrating the plaintiff's partial responsibility for the accident, which can directly impact the final verdict and the amount of compensation awarded.
Determining Fault in Personal Injury Cases
Negligence is crucial in personal injury cases, forming the foundation for establishing liability.
The concept of negligence involves three key elements:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
The defendant must owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, which means they have a legal obligation to act reasonably and responsibly to avoid causing harm. A breach of this duty occurs when the defendant fails to meet the required standard of care, and this breach directly causes the accident or incident that leads to the plaintiff's injuries.
When determining comparative fault, several factors come into play to assess the level of responsibility the plaintiff bears. For instance, in a car accident case, the plaintiff's actions at the time of the incident are carefully scrutinized. Was the plaintiff speeding or engaging in any other reckless behavior? Similarly, in a slip and fall scenario, if it is found that the plaintiff was distracted by their phone and not paying attention to their surroundings, their degree of fault may be assessed accordingly.
Evidence plays a pivotal role in determining fault in personal injury cases. Solid evidence helps establish a clear picture of the events leading up to the accident and its circumstances.
Evidence can include the following:
- Witness statements
- Photographs of the accident scene
- Surveillance footage
- Expert testimonies
- Medical records
The strength of the evidence presented can significantly influence the allocation of fault and the overall outcome of the case.
The Importance of Legal Counsel
Navigating the intricacies of comparative fault in personal injury cases can be daunting, which is why seeking the guidance of experienced legal counsel is paramount.
A seasoned lawyer understands the nuances of comparative fault and how it applies within Missouri’s legal framework. They can assess the details of your case, identify potential sources of fault, and build a solid argument to pursue compensation despite any shared responsibility.
At Bertram & Graf, L.L.C., our Kansas City team prioritizes our clients' well-being and works tirelessly to protect their rights and seek favorable outcomes. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (888) 398-2277.