Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

Comparative negligence divides fault between parties

California state law offers more than one option for litigating damages in motor vehicle accident cases. Determination of fault in cases involving vehicular accidents can impact the outcome of lawsuits and settlements, including any damages owed by one or more parties.

When dealing with a comparative negligence case, damages may be reduced or increased by negotiating terms during litigation or settlement agreements. Outcomes depend on the severity of the case and the balance of fault between the plaintiff and the defendant.

While many accident cases can point to a single guilty party, state law explains that cases involving comparative negligence are more complicated. In comparative negligence cases, it can be determined that the actions of both the plaintiff and defendant contributed to the circumstances surrounding the accident. The impact of each party's actions can result in shared responsibility for damages due to injury, emotional distress, destruction of property and various other factors.

For example, in the case of Mark and Liam Pappakostas vs. The State of California Department of Transportation and Trinity Highway Products, LLC, VerdictSearch reports "Pappakostas momentarily dozed off, causing the vehicle to drift off the road and strike the end of a roadside metal beam guardrail."

In most cases Pappakostas would be considered wholly at fault for negligent driving, but in this instance incorrectly installed guardrail end-terminals, which were designed to collapse on impact, instead penetrated Pappakostas' vehicle and amputated his leg among other injuries of varying severity. The catastrophic nature of the injury caused by the guardrail further aggravated any injuries associated with the crash, creating a situation of mutual fault that requires a determination of comparative negligence to decide which party is accountable for specific damages.

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