Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Cases

In an automobile accident, comparative negligence looks at the conduct between the plaintiff and the defendant. It is raised as a defense to reduce the plaintiff’s recovery. Comparative negligence varies from state to state.

Under this defense, a plaintiff who is partly responsible for the accident, will only be able to recover part of their damages. As an example, in some states, if the plaintiff were 20% responsible and the defendant 80%, the plaintiff would only be able to recover 80% of her damages. This doctrine applies in most states with a few applying contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence bars a plaintiff from recovery if she were in any way negligent in the accident. Percentages of conduct do not apply. If the plaintiff is 1% at fault, she can not recover for her damages.

In pure comparative states, a plaintiff can recover even if the defendant had a very small amount of negligence in causing the accident. If the defendant were just 1% negligent and the plaintiff were 99%, she could still recover 1% of her damages.

In modified comparative fault states, a plaintiff can only recover if her percentage of fault is below a certain percentage. Some states use the 50% bar rule which lets the plaintiff recover damages as long as her fault is 49% or less. Other states adhere to the 51% bar rule which requires the plaintiff’s fault be 50% or less.

As you can see the comparative negligence doctrine varies from state to state and is quite complex. If you are in an accident and facing a comparative negligence situation, always contact an experienced personal attorney to discuss this and other important legal issues that can affect your case.

About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, and other personal injury. Our firm practices law in Ohio, Georgia, and Michigan.

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Dennis P. Sawan

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Christopher A. Sawan


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