“Comparative Negligence” and How it Can Affect Car Accident Claims  

comparative negligence
Posted: October 5, 2023

As we have already covered in these pages, New York is a “comparative fault” jurisdiction. What does comparative negligence mean? If someone injured in a motor vehicle crash causes or contributes to the collision through “culpable conduct,” that person’s bodily injury recovery for pain and suffering will be reduced in proportion with their share of comparative fault. The jury or factfinder would compare the injured person’s culpable conduct with that of the injury causing party and assign different percentages of fault. The injured person’s damages would be reduced in proportion with their share of fault.  

New York’s comparative fault rule is a sharp contrast from “contributory fault” jurisdictions. In a pure contributory fault jurisdiction, any culpable conduct by the injured person—even if that conduct had a negligible affect on the happening of the incident and resulting injuries—could eliminate the right to recovery. This is harsh rule, from which most states have departed.  

New York’s comparative negligence rule may seem complicated in its abstract definition, but is easier to understand when applied to hypothetical fact patterns. Here are some examples:  

  • A pedestrian was struck in an intersection crosswalk. The pedestrian disregarded a red “Do Not Walk” signal but was clearly visible to the motorist before impact. Had the motorist been paying sufficient attention, she would have seen the pedestrian walking in the crosswalk and had time to take evasive action to avoid the pedestrian. At trial, the jury finds that the pedestrian  damages are $100,000, but bears comparative fault of 50%, meaning that the pedestrian was found to be 50% responsible for the happening of the crash. The award of $100,000 will be reduced by 50%, leaving the pedestrian with a $50,000 award.  
  • A motorist makes a left turn in an intersection across the oncoming lane of travel. Another motorist traveling straight through the intersection in the opposite direction T-bones the left-turning vehicle, resulting in a serious crash. The motorist who was traveling straight asserts a claim for personal injury, and the jury finds that his injuries warrant an award of $100,000. The jury finds that the left-turning motorist violated Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1141, which provides that:  “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” The jury also finds, however, that the motorist who was traveling straight was traveling over the speed limit, in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1180. The jury finds that the motorist who was traveling straight bears comparative fault of 30%, which would reduce the award to $70,000.   
  • A landowner allows a horse to wander from a pasture and onto a country road. It is dark out, and a driver does not see the animal in the road, but there is evidence that he was traveling over the speed limit in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1180. There is evidence, however, that even if the driver had been following the speed limit, he would have had no opportunity to avoid the animal in the road, because it suddenly appeared in the roadway, leaving him almost no time to react. Because the motorist’s culpable conduct was not a legal or actual cause of the injury, the award of $100,000 will not be reduced or diminished. 

These are some hypothetical examples of how New York’s comparative fault rule operates in courthouses across the state every day. Every fact pattern and case is unique so it is important not to overgeneralize. The actual apportionment of fault is factually sensitive and will depend on the precise facts of the case. Some insurance companies take the position that, because an injured person took actions which may have contributed to the injury they are entitled to no compensation. This is simply not the law.  

The attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. have extensive experience helping injured people receive maximum compensation after a New York car crash. If you were injured in a crash, don’t let the insurance company tell you that you are not entitled to compensation for pain and suffering. Call our attorneys today. We would be happy to review the unique circumstances of your case to see if we can help. 

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