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Comparative Negligence: What Utah Citizens Need To Know

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One morning, you find yourself again on I-15 North headed from your home in American Fork to your office in West Jordan. This morning, though, you’re running a bit late and your boss has already complained twice to you about tardiness. So, you find yourself driving a bit faster than the speed limit because you’re worried you’re going to be late again. You finally see your exit. You have 2 minutes to go before the start of that meeting. You start to slow down for the exit and veer slightly right preparing to stop for the light at the base of the exit ramp. But because you were speeding a little already, you suddenly realize that you’ve got to break hard to be able to stop in time for the red light. You slam on your brakes.

Your tires squeal. Thankfully, you’re able to bring your car to a full stop at the light. But a split second before you can breathe that sigh of relief, the person driving the car behind—who always drives the speed limit as she takes her kids to Seminary—is completely surprised by your sudden and unexpected stop. Though she tries her best to break in time, she manages to ram into the rear of your car—pushing you out into traffic. Surprisingly, no other cars are involved in the wreck and you and the other driver are able to move your cars off the road.

Everyone gets out and exchanges insurance information just as the police officer arrives. You are honest about the fact that you were speeding into the ramp, but equally honest that you were able to come to a complete stop before getting hit from behind. You get cited for speeding.

The lady behind you tells the truth as well. She was going the speed limit and if it hadn’t been for you having to stop suddenly to compensate for your illegal entry speed, she would have certainly been able to stop in time without hitting your car and pushing you into the car in front. She gets cited for “following too closely” to your car.

Who’s at fault? Is it you, for having to stop so suddenly to compensate for your excessive speed? Is it the person behind you for following too closely? Is it a little bit of both?

To make matters worse, your neck is killing you now and you’re starting to get medical bills that are quickly piling up. That MRI alone cost close to $2,000! Though you hate to have to do it, you go see a lawyer about making a claim against the other driver’s insurance. I mean, after all, you might have been speeding, but she was following too closely. She was the one that couldn’t stop in time, right?

Contributory Negligence

Wrecks like this happen all over the country on any given road on any given day. Depending on where in the country you live also determines whether you can make a claim against someone for causing your injuries when you might also bear some responsibility for causing that wreck.

The idea of contributory negligence is that an injured party should not be able to fully recover from the other party if they were also negligent. Even if your own negligence only contributed to a mere 1% out of 100 in causing the wreck, the law there says you may not recover against that little old lady. This type of law is called “pure contributory negligence” and was the general rule in almost all jurisdictions in early to mid last century. A handful of jurisdictions, including North Carolina, still rely on this rule.

However, once states began recognizing the harshness of the “pure contributory negligence rule”, they began modifying the rule to allow for a more “fair” result. Consequently, most of the country—including Utah has adopted what’s called “comparative negligence” or “modified comparative negligence”.

Comparative Negligence in Utah

The modified comparative negligence rule in Utah states that an injured party cannot bring a claim against another party if their level of negligence is 50% or higher. So if their negligence is 49% or lower then you can still recover something. If, however, your percentage of negligence is 50% or above, you recover nothing. This rule kind of mixes previous rules and strives for more justice. The difficulty comes in the juries’ determination of the percentage of negligence.

In our case, though your speeding and sudden stopping might have been negligent and contributed to the wreck, you can still recover some portion of your overall damages so long as your own negligence doesn’t rise to the level of 50% or more.

So lets say you take the other driver to court and you’re able to prove that you suffered $50,000 in total damages and the jury decides that you were 25% responsible, the award would be discounted by your percentage and you would recover $37,500. But if that same jury decided you were 50% or more at fault, you would recover nothing!

The Importance of Hiring a Good Utah Lawyer

Although most personal injury cases never make to trial because they are settled, this rule can still have an effect on the outcome. Depending on whether or not the insurance companies think there was some level of negligence on the part of the plaintiff they could lower the settlement offer. This is where an attorney could step in and help. If you have been involved in an accident and need help paying your medical bills then call an experienced Utah Personal Injury Lawyer. The lawyers at Young & Young Law Firm are experienced in the intricacies of tort law and will not allow the insurance companies to avoid paying what is owed. We have years of experience in dealing with the comparative negligence aspect of these types of cases and have a proven track record of getting the best possible results for our clients.


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