If you were speeding at the time of a car accident, you may think you are automatically liable for the accident. However, if the accident was in New York or New Jersey, this is not necessarily true.
New York and New Jersey both employ a comparative negligence system, albeit slightly differently. “Comparative negligence” is the legal term for assigning degrees of fault to each party involved in a traffic accident. Comparative negligence systems are often helpful for plaintiffs in a car accident case because it allows the plaintiff to recover damages, even if he or she was partially responsible for the accident.
New Jersey uses a modified comparative negligence system, as described in NJSA 2A:15-5.2. This means that, as a plaintiff, you are eligible to recover damages as long as you can prove that the other driver was more than 50 percent at fault—that is, that the other driver was more at fault than you were.
Comparative negligence works by reducing the overall damage award by the percentage of negligence. For example, say you were going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit through a green light at an intersection. Another car, which failed to stop at the red light, T-bones your car and causes $500,000 in medical bills and vehicle damage. Even though you were speeding, the car who ran the red light was certainly more at fault than you were. If you are determined to be 10 percent at fault for the accident, then your potential damage award will be reduced by 10 percent to $450,000. In the state of New Jersey, since the other driver was significantly more at fault than you were (90 percent vs. 10 percent), you would still be eligible to recover damages.
If the accident happened in New York, the rules are slightly different. New York uses a pure comparative negligence system, meaning that you are eligible to recover damages as long as the other driver was somewhat at fault. This could mean the other driver was 90 percent at fault or 10 percent at fault—either way, you could collect damages for the accident.
However, it is important to keep in mind that just because you are able to file a lawsuit, it doesn’t always make financial sense to do so. For example, if the other driver was 10 percent at fault in a $100,000 accident, you would only be able to win a maximum of $10,000. You should weigh this damage award against the cost of filing a lawsuit. Talking with an experienced personal injury lawyer is the best way to figure out whether or not you have a case.
It is also important to remember that different parties will arrive at levels of fault differently. In the somewhat rare event that a personal injury case makes it to trial, the judge or jury will work to assign percentages of fault to each party so that they can arrive at a final damage amount. However, comparative negligence is still important in settlement negotiations. Insurance adjusters and opposing attorneys can use the principle of comparative negligence to argue for reduced damages out of court.