Car keys with Automobile insurance coverage document

Accidents happen. Sometimes, they’re completely unavoidable, but usually, someone’s at fault. When it comes to determining who’s responsible to pay for the medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other harm caused by a wreck, we first have to determine who’s at fault.

We commonly think of liability for car wrecks as black-and-white — if one person is at fault, the other must be the victim. However, the situation can be far more complicated than that. What if one driver was speeding and the other was looking at his phone? What if both drivers ran stop signs? How do you determine fault? Once each party’s percentage of fault is determined, how does that affect what a plaintiff can recover? 

Even when liability is in dispute, or the percentage of liability is in dispute, most cases are able to settle without going to trial. However, if a case involving a liability dispute does go to trial, the jury gets to decide the percentage of liability attributed to each party. In Colorado, the difference between a plaintiff being 50% liable versus 49% liable makes a huge difference in the outcome of the case, because Colorado is a modified comparative negligence state. Before talking more about Colorado’s law, let’s see what other states do when awarding damages when the plaintiff has some fault for the accident. 

Other States’ Laws: Contributory Negligence and Pure Comparative Negligence

Some states apply prohibit a plaintiff from recovering anything if their negligence contributes at all to the wreck. Such laws are known as contributory negligence laws. Under contributory negligence, if a plaintiff is found to be as little as 1% at fault for the accident the plaintiff is completely prohibited from making any recovery from the defendant. 

Some states utilize what is known as pure comparative negligence when awarding damages to a plaintiff who has some fault for the accident. In states the use pure comparative negligence, if the injured party is found to be partially liable, he or she may still recover for their damages, but the recovery is reduced by their percentage of fault in the accident. What differentiates a “pure” comparative negligence state from Colorado, is that states utilizing pure comparative negligence allow a plaintiff to recover for their damages, even if their portion of fault for the accident is 50% or greater. So, under pure comparative negligence, a plaintiff that is 99% at fault for the accident can recover 1% of his or her damages from a defendant. 

Colorado Uses Modified Comparative Negligence

Remember earlier, when we said that Colorado law requires a huge difference for a plaintiff who is 50% liable versus just 49% liable? That’s because Colorado utilizes modified comparative negligence. Under Colorado’s modified comparative negligence law, a plaintiff’s damages gets reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault for the wreck or accident; however, if the plaintiff’s fault is greater than or equal to the combined fault of the defendant(s), the plaintiff gets nothing. 

By way of example: if injured Driver A is fifty-two percent responsible for causing an accident with Driver B (making driver B “only” responsible for forty-eight percent of the accident), then Driver A, despite his or her injuries and nearly equal responsibility in causing the accident, is not entitled to recover damages. 

Of course, the more parties involved the more complicated a case can get, but as long as the plaintiff’s negligence is not more than that of all of the defendants combined, then plaintiff is allowed to recover damages from the defendant, but the amount of the total damages is reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. If a case involved a plaintiff and two defendants, and all three were determined to be 33 ⅓ % at fault, then the plaintiff could recover 33 ⅓ % from one defendant and 33 ⅓ % from the other defendant. 

Mintz Law Firm is Here To Help

Questions about liability and how liability affects the outcome of a case can often be quite complex and require the assistance of a knowledgeable Colorado injury law attorney. At Mintz Law Firm, our experienced personal injury attorneys understand the impact that these questions have on your case and will fight to ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, fill out a contact form or call us at 303-462-2999 today!