The apportionment of fault lies at the heart of a negligence case. The law in Florida and every other state requires that the injured party prove negligence, which is the failure to exercise the degree of reasonable care expected of an individual to minimize the risk of harm to another person. For forty years, Florida has followed the theory of pure comparative negligence in apportioning fault and measuring damage amounts. The public policy behind comparative negligence is that the causes of accidents are not always clear and easily determinable. Multiple parties may be negligent during any given accident and logic and fairness dictate that each responsible party be held accountable for their fair share of the blame and, concurrently, damages.
For almost three quarters into the 20th Century, contributory negligence existed as a defense to negligence actions in Florida. If a plaintiff brought a negligence action but even contributed the slightest to the accident, i.e., he or she was guilty of even minimum contributory negligence, the court would disallow the claim. In other words, if the plaintiff was even remotely at fault, the claim was barred under Florida law and the plaintiff received “zero, zippo, nota.” This harsh “all-or-nothing” approach was often grossly unfair to negligence plaintiffs as it could bar recovery in situations where the defendant was 95% at fault and the plaintiff was only 5% at fault.
In 1973, the Florida Supreme Court decided Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So. 2d 431 (Fla. 1973), which abolished the doctrine of contributory negligence and adopted the fairer doctrine of comparative negligence. The Florida legislature codified a pure comparative negligence doctrine with the enactment of Florida Statute §768.81(2) which provides for the effect of contributory fault. “In a negligence action, contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as economic and noneconomic damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”
As a result, Florida now follows the theory of “pure” comparative negligence which simply is apportioning fault and doing the math. About one-third of the states follow this theory including New York and California. In contrast, some states follow modified comparative negligence theories which require an injured party to be less than 50% at fault, or in some states, 51%. A party 30%, 60%, or even 99% at fault may collect damages under the pure comparative negligence theory. For example, if you have $200,000 of damages but are 30% at fault and the defendant is 70% at fault, you will recover $140,000 from the defendant. If you have $200,000 of damages but are 60% at fault and the defendant is 40% at fault, you will recover $80,000 from the defendant.
Many things like eyewitness reports and statements made by all of the parties after the accident can be used to assign fault. This is why it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can gather evidence to determine the correct apportionment of fault in any negligence case. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you need a personal injury attorney to review your case and determine which parties may be at fault, and to what extent, to help you maximize your recovery. Board Certified Personal Injury attorney Bryan Caulfield has decades of experience representing those injured in all sorts of personal injury cases. Bryan Caulfield will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Call Bryan Caulfield today for a free consultation at (727) 796-8282.