If you are driving a car with a broken brake light, and a speeding driver rear-ends you at a stop sign, who is at fault? No, it’s not a trick philosophical question or the latest case for Sherlock Holmes. If you do get rear-ended while stopping for a stop sign, this is the kind of thing you are going to ask yourself, and the kind of thing a jury is going to consider if you end up taking the other driver to court.
Accidents are complicated, and oftentimes there is not just one person who is to blame. In our example, the driver who hit you was speeding, so that definitely makes the crash at least partially his fault. But your tail light was out, which could mean that the other guy didn’t notice that you were braking, in which case it might be a little your fault, too. This is why many states have comparative fault laws. These laws alter your reward for damages based on how much of the accident was your fault, and in some cases can even stop you from winning a case if you are too much to blame.
What is Pure Comparative Fault?
More than a dozen states, including Missouri, follow what is called the Pure Comparative Fault Rule. This means that, if you want to file a lawsuit after an accident, a jury will decide what percentage of the accident was your fault, and reduce your damage award by that percentage.
For example, the jury may decide that you and your broken tail light are at fault for 20% of the accident, while the guy who was speeding is accountable for 80%. If a jury determines your damages to be $10,000, you can only actually get $8,000, because the court will subtract 20% to account for the portion of the accident that was your responsibility.
What is Modified Comparative Fault?
Most states follow a Modified Comparative Fault Rule, including Illinois. It is similar to the pure comparative fault rule, because you still only get a certain percentage of money in damages based on fault. However, with modified comparative fault, if enough of the accident is your fault, you cannot recover any money damages at all.
Illinois follows a 51% Bar Rule. This means that if 51% or more of the accident was your fault, you cannot recover on a claim at all. At fault for 50%? Go right ahead and file. The idea is that if it was mostly your fault, you should not be allowed to get money for the accident.
So, for you and your broken tail light, nothing would be different. If you are responsible for 20% of the accident and you are suing the other guy for $10,000, you will still only be able to get $8,000. However, if a judge or jury thought you were 51% or more responsible for the accident, you would not be able to recover any money damages.
Each state has its own laws about fault in the case of accidents, but most follow some sort of fault-based system. Accidents are complicated, and rules like these are meant to ensure that you get what you deserve, but only what you deserve. This is but one of the many reasons why, after a car accident, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to protect yourself.
Our personal injury lawyers have helped thousands of people in Illinois and Missouri, and can answer your questions about comparative fault in a free consultation.