What Happens When Multiple Parties Are at Fault for a Personal Injury Claim?
In some personal injury cases, there could be more than one defendant. This situation arises when more than one party is determined to be at fault for contributing to the accident. For this type of personal injury claim, it is more complex than when attempting to recover damages from a single party.
Insurance companies, their lawyers, your personal injury lawyer, and the court have to determine how much each party contributed to causing your injuries. Typically, what will occur is each responsible party will be assigned a percentage of the fault for the damages you seek. Then each party is held accountable for paying their part of the settlement or verdict if you win at trial.
To illustrate, let’s assume you were in a car accident, and it was determined there were three responsible parties. Party A attempted to “beat the red light” at a busy intersection. Party B attempted to turn left as the light was turning red. Party C was in a hurry and entered the intersection as soon as their light turned green.
The result of their actions caused them to not only hit each other but also slide out of control into the oncoming cross traffic lane, where you were on your motorcycle. Because the events occurred so quickly, you had no time to react. All three vehicles impacted you at some point during the crash.
After filing your personal injury claim with help from your lawyer, it is determined Party A is 50% at fault for the accident. Party B is 30% at fault, and Party C is 20% at fault. After negotiating with the different insurance companies, it is determined you are entitled to receive $500,000 in damages.
Party A and their insurance company would be responsible to pay $250,000. Party B and their insurance company would be responsible for paying $150,000. Party C and their insurance company would be responsible for paying $100,000.
In the event one party is not able to pay their portion of the damages, you may not be allowed to seek compensation from the other two people. This is because courts may not hold the defendants jointly responsible for the damages.
How Is Fault in a Multiple-Party Personal Injury Claim Determined?
In order to establish how much each party is responsible for multi-party personal injury cases, the exact details and circumstances of the accident must be reviewed. Your lawyer will review copies of police reports, accident reports, witness statements, and each statement made by those involved in the accident.
When multiple parties are involved, it is not uncommon for each person to have their own account of what took place. This is largely due to our personal opinions, and it can be very difficult to remain subjective, especially following a serious accident. The last thing many people will do is admit fault.
Instead, they will try to shift the blame to another responsible party. Going back to our example above, Party B, who was turning left as the light was turning red, could claim they had the right-of-way and the accident was fully Party A’s fault. Party C could try to shift the blame saying if Party A and Party B had not tried to beat the red light, the accident would never have occurred.
In addition, each person’s insurance company will also try to shift the blame to avoid paying out any damages or the least amount possible. As you can see, it can become very complex sorting through the evidence in these types of negligence cases.
Determining Negligence in a Multiple-Party Personal Injury Claim
To determine how much each person’s negligence contributed to the accident, the law relies on two important concepts:
- Contributory Negligence
- Comparative Negligence
What Is Contributory Negligence?
Contributory negligence is where, if an individual is found to have contributed to their accident and personal injuries, they cannot seek damages from the other parties. The only way you can recover damages is if you were found to be 0% at fault.
Going back to our example, because you were sitting on your motorcycle at a red light, waiting for it to turn green, you had not even moved when the light did turn green because the three vehicles had slid toward you and hit you.
As such, you contributed no negligence in the accident. If you were in a contributory negligence state, you would be able to seek damages for your personal injuries. However, if it was determined you were even 1% at fault, you would not be able to seek damages for the 99% the other parties contributed to the accident.
This type of negligence is only used in a few states still today. All other states rely on the concept of comparative negligence.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
Comparative negligence determines what percentage each person was at fault for causing the accident. Once a percentage is assigned, then each party is responsible for paying a percentage of everyone’s damages in the accident.
Using our previous example, let’s assume Party A was only 40% at fault. Party B is still 30% at fault, and Party C is 20% at fault. You were found to be 10% at fault. Using comparative negligence, each party will collect damages reduced by the percentage they were found to be at fault.
Party A’s damages are found to be $100,000. Party B suffers $200,000 in damages. Party C experiences $300,000 in damages. You suffer $500,000 in damages. The amount paid in damages would be as follows:
- Party A would receive $60,000 in damages divided between Party B, Party C, and yourself. Party B would pay 30%, Party C 20 %, and you would pay 10%.
- Party B would receive $140,000 in damages from you and the other two parties. Party A would pay 40%, Party C 20%, and you 10%.
- Party C would receive $240,000 in damages also paid by everyone else. Party A would pay 40%, Party B 30%, and you 10%.
- You would receive $450,000 in damages paid by the three other people. Party A would pay 40%, Party B 30%, and Party C 20%.
Because this form of “pure” comparative negligence is a bit complex, many states, including Texas, use what is known as modified comparative negligence.
What Is Modified Comparative Negligence?
In a modified comparative negligence personal injury claim, each person is still assigned a percentage of fault for the accident. However, the key difference is if the person is found to be 50% or more responsible, they cannot receive any compensation from the other parties.
Using the same accident example as before, let’s assume Party A was 60% responsible, Party B was 20% responsible, and Party C was 20% responsible. You were 0% responsible for the accident.
- Under modified comparative negligence, even though Party A’s damages were $100,000, they would not be able to collect anything because they were 60% at fault.
- Party B’s $200,000 in damages would be reduced by 20% for a total of $160,000. Party A would pay $120,000, and Party C would pay $40,000.
- Party C’s $300,000 in damages would also be reduced by 20% for a total of $240,000. Party A would pay $180,000 and Party B would pay $60,000.
- Each Party would also be responsible for paying their percentage of your $500,000 in damages.
There is no exact formula to arrive at an exact percentage of responsibility. Rather, it is established during the settlement negotiation process between the insurance companies, their lawyers, and your personal injury lawyer.
They look at what each party did or did not do and how it contributed to the accident. Then they discuss all of the factors and circumstances to arrive at what percentages each person is assigned.
Even in so-called “no-fault” states, where you receive compensation directly from your insurance company, “pure” or modified comparative negligence can be used to determine your exact settlement offer.
If you have been involved in an accident caused by multiple parties, it is imperative to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. It is important to find out your legal rights and responsibilities, how much you could receive for your injuries, and how much you could be found at fault for the accident.
For a free personal injury claim case evaluation and consultation, call Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. at 713-893-0971 now to speak with one of our personal injury lawyers!
DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind the dollar amounts used in examples in the content are for illustrative and educational purposes only. They should not be construed as actual legal advice or used to determine how much you could be entitled to receive as monetary compensation in a personal injury claim. To obtain legal advice and the value of your claim, you need to speak to a qualified personal injury lawyer.