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What Is the 51% modified comparative fault rule?

If you have been injured in an accident but you haven’t filed a personal injury claim because you were found to be partially responsible for the accident you may still be able to file a personal injury claim. The 51% modified comparative fault allows anyone who has been injured an accident but is 50% or less at fault for the accident to file a personal injury claim. If you are more than 51% at fault for the accident you can file a claim but your claim will most likely be denied.

Not all states uses the 51% modified comparative fault rule but if yours does you have a good chance of filing a successful personal injury claim as long as you are less than 50% at fault for the accident.

The Question of Fault

Who caused the car accident? Nine times out of ten, you are not going to be able to come up with only one person who is at fault. Usually each person has some part in the action, whether it is a small part or a significant cause of why the accident happened.

Therefore, is it fair to push blame on all one person? It is this question that brought about the concepts of contributory negligence and comparative fault. Both theories are used as defenses to mitigate how much the person who caused the car accident has to pay.

Contributory fault bars the party who is seeking compensation from damages based on the fact that he or she played a part in the cause of the accident, no matter how small. Comparative fault is a less restrictive way of mitigating how much a party has to pay for damages.

What Is 51% Modified Comparative Fault?

Comparative Fault

Comparative fault divides damages up between parties based upon the percentage of “fault” or negligence they towards causing the accident. The plaintiff is compensated for his or her injuries but this amount is reduced by the percentage he or she was found to be negligent.

Under the pure form of comparative fault, parties are entitled to seek compensation for their injuries even if one party is found to be 99 percent at fault while the other is one percent. That party that is 99 percent at fault can be compensated for the small amount he or she was injured, the one percent.

What is the 51 Percent Rule with Auto Accidents?

The 51 percent rule means that an accident victim can still claim damages unless his or her percentage of fault was greater than 51 percent. If the court finds the plaintiff to be comparatively negligent, monetary damages will be reduced by his or her share of fault.

If you are found to be more than 51 percent responsible for the auto accident, your claim can be denied. If you are 50 percent or less responsible, then you may file a claim and be awarded compensation for the injuries you sustained in the accident.

At the moment 29 states follow the no-fault, pure contributory negligence, modified 50-percent or the pure comparative fault rule. The rest of the states use the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule.

The number 51 has been deliberately chosen as this aim of the modified form of comparative negligence is to prevent a plaintiff from being awarded damages if he or she is more responsible for the auto accident and the injuries sustained than the defendant.

Under the pure contributory negligence standard, he or she would not be eligible to claim any compensation at all. The modified comparative negligence approach takes middle ground between pure comparative and pure contributory negligence.

Because not all states use the 51% modified comparative fault rule, if yours does you have a good chance of filing a successful personal injury claim provided you are less than 50% at fault for the accident.

What Is an Example of Modified Comparative Negligence?

If you file a civil lawsuit that seeks monetary damages, the ruling issued by the judge hearing your case is based on assigning fault to one or more of the parties involved in the case.

Although some cases result in a clear-cut judicial decision that assigns blame to just one party, a majority of personal injury lawsuits end up assigning blame to more than one party.

Because of the prevalence of multiple-party liability cases, many states have established the comparative negligence principle for assigning fault for personal injury cases.

Comparative fault means each party assumes a percentage of the blame for causing a personal injury incident.

For example, let’s assume you file a car accident lawsuit that seeks monetary damages valued at $50,000. The judge rules in your favor, but the legal decision assigns you 20 percent of the blame for causing the car accident.

Perhaps the other party ran a red light that caused the car accident, but at the time, you were reading a text message sent by a professional colleague.

Because you assume 20 percent of the fault for causing the car accident, the $50,000 award for monetary damages decreases to $40,000 to account for the 20 percent of the blame you have to assume for causing the personal injury incident.

Modified comparative negligence also assigns blame to multiple parties. However, if a judge rules you should assume more than 50 percent of the fault for causing a personal injury incident, you no longer qualify to receive monetary damages because you assumed a majority of the blame for causing the accident.

The 51-Percent Modified Comparative Fault Rule

Under the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule, if you are injured in a car accident and you played some part in the cause of that accident, you can seek compensation for your injuries. However, this amount may be reduced by the percentage of liability you hold in the accident.

If you happen to be more than 51 percent responsible for the accident, your claim can be denied. If you are 50 percent or less responsible, then you are open to pursue a claim and receive compensation for your injuries sustained from the accident.

Twenty-nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, use the no-fault, pure contributory negligence, modified 50-percent or the pure comparative fault rule.  The others use the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule.

The Reasoning Behind the Rule

The number 51 may seem like an arbitrary figure, but it actually is quite intentional. This modified form of comparative negligence is intended to keep a plaintiff from recovering damages if he or she is more responsible for his or her injuries than the defendant.

It is a way to reduce the number of legal claims that have very little merit, which are created when the pure comparative negligence standard is utilized. However, it is also intended to allow for some room for error when the plaintiff was at least somewhat negligent in causing the accident.

Under the pure contributory negligence standard, he or she would be completely barred from any compensation. The modified comparative negligence approach is the middle ground between pure comparative and pure contributory negligence, somewhere between overly restrictive and overly permissive.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been involved in a car accident in a jurisdiction where the 51 percent modified comparative fault rule is the legal standard and have questions about your rights, it is always recommended you contact an attorney today to discuss your case if you do not currently have a lawyer or have any questions.

A licensed personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case and determine if you have a claim against the other party’s insurance company. You should speak with a personal injury attorney in your area today to receive the compensation for your damages, including:

  • Medical bills
  • Property damages
  • Pain and suffering

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