What is comparative fault and how does it work?

Like many other states, Florida has abandoned the traditional rule of “contributory negligence” in favor of a system based on comparative negligence. Traditionally, if a Hillsborough, Florida, resident got in to an accident and was responsible for it, even only to a slight degree, then he or she could not sue for compensation from the other party and be left on his or her own to cover medical bills, lost wages and other expenses.

Comparative fault, on the other hand, allows a victim to sue for damages from a negligent driver even if he or she is partially responsible for the accident. However, the victim will not get compensation for his or her share of the fault. This means he or she may have to pay some of his or her own bills, but only proportion to his or her responsibility as determined by a judge or jury.

Florida is somewhat unique in that it is a “pure” comparative fault state, meaning a victim can sue even if he or she was primarily or even predominantly responsible for the accident or injury, although it sometimes may not be financially worth it to do so.

For example, if a pedestrian is involved in a crash with another motor vehicle who was traveling too fast for the conditions, the pedestrian may sue the other driver for his or her injuries. However, if the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk then crossing the street, then a judge or jury may conclude the pedestrian has a portion of the fault, say 20 percent. As a result, if the jury finds the victim suffered $1 million in damages, he or she will get awarded $800,000, as the other $200,000, or 20 percent, are the victims’ own responsibility.

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