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Comparative Negligence- What Does it Have to do with NJ Car Accidents?

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In New Jersey car accidents, someone is usually at fault. In a rear-end accident, the driver who hits the car ahead of them is generally at fault. A driver who doesn’t stop at a stop sign and hits another vehicle in the intersection is also generally at fault. However, some accidents are not as clear cut in terms of liability. Many injured drivers believe they were hurt in accidents due to the fault of the other drivers; however, other drivers may also point the finger at the injured drivers and say that they contributed to the accidents and were partially at fault. In such situations, the comparative negligence doctrine will apply to determine fault of all parties involved.

Related: Marlton, NJ Rear-End Hit & Run Accident – Who do You Sue?

The doctrine of comparative negligence is laid out in New Jersey Statutes 2A:15-5.1, which provides:

Contributory negligence; elimination as bar to recovery; comparative negligence to determine damages.   Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in an action by any person or his legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property, if such negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought or was not greater than the combined negligence of the persons against whom recovery is sought.  Any damages sustained shall be diminished by the percentage sustained of negligence attributable to the person recovering.

Essentially, even though the injured party may also be at fault, he can still recover from the at-fault party so long as his negligence is not greater than the at-fault party.

How do you calculate damages then? Are damages assessed based on the injured party’s negligence? N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2 provides:

2A:15-5.2.   Findings of fact; percentage of fault; terms defined.

2.  a.  In all negligence actions and strict liability actions in which the question of liability is in dispute, including actions in which any person seeks to recover damages from a social host as defined in section 1 of P.L.1987, c.404 (C.2A:15-5.5) for negligence resulting in injury to the person or to real or personal property, the trier of fact shall make the following as findings of fact:

(1)  The amount of damages which would be recoverable by the injured party regardless of any consideration of negligence or fault, that is, the full value of the injured party’s damages.

(2)  The extent, in the form of a percentage, of each party’s negligence or fault.  The percentage of negligence or fault of each party shall be based on 100% and the total of all percentages of negligence or fault of all the parties to a suit shall be 100%.

In other words, damages are still evaluated at 100% regardless of the injured party’s percentage of negligence or fault. However, after the damages are assessed, the amount of damages the injured party will be able to recover will be reduced by their percentage of liability.

Continue to part 2 of this article which discusses a NJ car accident rear-end accident in terms of comparative negligence and the damages the injured driver can recover.

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