Comparative Negligence in New Jersey
What Happens When You Are Partially Responsible for Your Own Injuries?
When you have suffered loss because of the wrongful or careless act of another person, you have the right to seek compensation for your injuries. As a practical matter, though, it’s relatively common for there to be multiple causes of an accident. In fact, a jury may find that you were negligent in some way, contributing to the factors that led to the accident. What are the potential ramifications of a finding that you were partially responsible for your own injuries?
In New Jersey, as in all other jurisdictions, the laws governing this type of situation have changed over the last century. As the initially developed, the concept of “contributory negligence” was controlling. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, an injured person who caused his or her losses, to any degree, could not recover any compensation. This approach led defense attorneys to look for even the slightest or remotest indication of negligence by an injured party and to seek to avoid liability based on the theory of contributory negligence. This often led to patently unfair results, where an grossly negligent person could escape all liability if the injured party made the slightest mistake.
In response to public perception of the inherent unfairness of such a doctrine, all fifty states have adopted some form of what is known as “comparative negligence.” Under a comparative negligence scheme, the court looks at the total amount of an injured party’s losses, and reduces that damage award by the degree of liability.
Not surprisingly, two different forms of comparative negligence have evolved: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. Under a pure comparative negligence approach, an injured party will always receive some compensation, unless the court determines that he or she was entirely liable. Under a modified comparative negligence model, there’s a threshold for the liability of the injured party, typically 50%. If the court determines that the injured party’s responsibility was greater than the threshold, there will be no recovery. New Jersey is a modified comparative negligence state.
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