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Comparative and contributory negligence theories

After a car accident, those who suffered injuries often choose to seek compensation for the damages that were sustained through the filing of a personal injury lawsuit. However, because Illinois had adopted the comparative negligence theory of liability, an injured person may still be held partially responsible for causing the crash.

In many cases, car accidents are caused by the combined actions of the drivers who were involved, and thus it is up to the jury to allocate the fault between the parties. For example, a jury may determine that one driver who was speeding was 80 percent responsible for the accident while the other driver who was hit contributed to the accident by 20 percent for making a turn without using a signal. If the injured driver who made the turn filed a lawsuit and the jury agreed that $100,000 in damages were sustained, the jury may reduce the award accordingly, thus allowing an $80,000 recovery.

While most states utilize the comparative negligence theory when determining who was at fault, a few states continue to follow the strict common law doctrine of contributory negligence. This means that injured persons cannot recover any compensation if they contributed in any way to the cause of the accident.

While many car accidents result in serious injuries, far too often a negligent driver causes the death of an innocent victim. If the family of the decedent believes that the other driver is more at fault for the fatal crash, it may attempt to recover appropriate damages by filing a wrongful death claim against the responsible party. An attorney may assist by demonstrating that the other driver was more at fault through police reports and other evidence obtained during a subsequent investigation of the crash.

Source: FindLaw, "Defenses: Contributory and Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Cases", accessed on March 10, 2015

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