What is Comparative Negligence in California?

Posted on 01/26/24

in Personal Injury

When a person sustains an injury due to the negligent, careless, or intentional actions of someone else, they may be able to recover compensation for their losses. However, the process of recovering compensation involves determining negligence. In some cases, liability for an incident is relatively straightforward, but there are times when multiple parties share fault for causing an injury. When this happens, we have to examine the comparative negligence system used in California.

California Pure Comparative Negligence System

When we examine California Civil Code § 1714, we can see that California operates off of something called a “pure comparative negligence” system. This is similar to the system used in other states across the country, but it does have some specific requirements that differ from most other places.

Under a pure comparative negligence system, injury victims could potentially recover compensation even if they are partially or mostly responsible for causing their own injury. In fact, injury victims can recover compensation even if they are up to 99% at fault for the incident.

However, there is a major caveat to a victim receiving compensation when they share liability, and that is that their compensation amounts get reduced depending on their level of fault.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how this would work is to look at a completely made-up injury example with simplistic numbers.

Suppose an individual sustains an injury caused by the negligence of another driver on the roadway. Let us imagine that an injury victim sustains $100,000 worth of damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and property damage expenses. Comparative negligence could come into play if the injury victim shared some of the liability for the incident. If a jury determines that the injury victim was 20% responsible for the incident, perhaps because they did not have working taillights, then their compensation would be reduced by $20,000, leaving them with $80,000 instead of the full $100,000.

This scenario would be true in states that uses a regular “comparative negligence” system. However, the pure comparative negligence system in California would allow the injury victim to recover compensation even if they were more than 50% responsible for the incident. So, in the same scenario above, if a jury determined the injury victim was 80% responsible for causing the incident instead of 20%, they would still be able to recover compensation, but greatly reduced. They would only receive $20,000 instead of the full $100,000.

Is Comparative Negligence Used in Other States?

In total, 12 states across the country use a type of pure comparative negligence system and 34 states use a regular comparative negligence system that typically prohibits individuals from recovering compensation if they are 50% or 51% or more responsible for causing their own injuries.

Four states across the US use a contributory negligence system that prohibits individuals from recovering any compensation if they share any fault for causing their own injuries.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligent actions of another individual or entity and are struggling to recover full compensation, we encourage you to reach out to a personal injury attorney immediately. A lawyer can help you understand comparative negligence laws and how they may apply to your specific claim.