Multi-Vehicle Accidents: How Comparative Negligence Affects Your Claim
We have seen multi-vehicle accidents on the news, with pictures from a helicopter hovering above scattered cars and trucks, and debris strewn across the highway. Some of us might even have passed by one, and seen the damage for ourselves. Very few of us will have ever been involved in one. While not ignoring the possibility of tragedy and the risk of loss of life, such events are usually followed any a litany of personal injury claims.
The trouble is that when it comes to road accidents involving several vehicles, identifying liability is never easy. Those involved almost always are affected emotionally, and finger pointing is pretty normal. But before any ruling can be made on personal injury cases, the courts have to sort out where responsibility lies and, more importantly, to what degree each person influenced the chances of the incident occurring – something called Comparative Negligence.
How Comparative Negligence Works
We touched on Comparative Negligence in a previous post, but the area is a complex one that leaves many people confused. In essence, it comes down to culpability and how more than one person involved in a car accident may have contributed to the accident itself. Obviously, this has a direct influence on a personal injury claim.
However, culpability is not treated in exactly the same way in every US state. In fact, there are 2 categories in the country, with Contributory Negligence preferred in just 4 states – Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Under Contributory Negligence, if the injured party is deemed to have been even 1% responsible for the accident, they are not entitled to any compensation.
While the remaining 46 States, including Oregon (see ORS 31.600), prefer Comparative Negligence, there are actually 2 different rules dividing them:
Pure Comparative Negligence – 13 states apply this rule, including Washington, California, Alaska and New York. This rule states that the amount of compensation awarded should be directly proportionate to the percentage of liability a driver is judged to have. So, in an accident involving 4 drivers, if John is judged to have 20% liability, Mary 15%, Bill 55% and Joan 10%, they would receive the relevant compensation minus their degree of liability – John 80%, Mary 85%, Bill 45% and Joan 90%.
Modified Comparative Negligence – the remaining 33 States apply this rule, but even so, this is divided by 2 modifications: the 50% Bar and the 51% Bar. These bars basically set a limit to the degree of liability a driver can have in order to receive compensation.
In Oregon, the 51% Bar applies, meaning anyone who is found to be 51% responsible or more for an accident is not entitled to claim compensation – so Bill (with 55% liability) would not receive anything. However, the compensation awarded to drivers entitled to make a claim – with 50% or less liability – is still proportionally reduced. There are 20 other US States that apply this rule, including Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Hawaii.
The 50% Bar works in the same way, but only drivers deemed to have 49% or less liability can make a claim. The 12 states that apply this rule include Idaho, Utah, Colorado and North Dakota.
*For more details and a list of the relevant states, check here.
Major Or Minor Events
Of course, a multi-vehicle accident does not have to be a major highway pile up. These are extreme cases that can often involve personal tragedy as well as personal injury. But it’s worth noting that most cases feature collisions at relatively low speeds, involving multiple rear-endings or several drivers colliding when reacting to an unexpected element, like a pedestrian stepping out suddenly onto the street.
These may be generally considered less serious incidents but the task of apportioning liability is no less complicated, with issues like vehicle distances, driving speed and driver attentiveness all part of the equation.
Consult Attorney Keith Dozier
For more information on issues related to liabilities in multi-vehicle accidents, feel free to contact Keith. In his years as a Personal Injury Attorney, he has dealt with a wide variety of cases, some of which have very extremely complex, so is best placed to help you through the complex processes to decide on the best options open to you.
To speak to Keith, simply call into our office in Lake Oswego, near Portland or contact us Toll Free on 855-899-0930. Our focus is always on providing you with excellent service, no matter the size or complexity of your case.