Determining who was at fault is a vital element in a personal injury claim. Once liability is assigned, it will typically determine how much each party will be responsible for paying for resulting injuries or property damage. When it comes to fault, New York is unlike many other states, in that it follows a “pure” version of comparative fault.
New York is one of 13 states that operate under a “pure” comparative fault law (N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1411). This means that each party involved in a personal injury lawsuit has the opportunity to recover compensation, even if one party is 99% at fault. Contrary to “modified” comparative fault, in which the primarily responsible party is prohibited from collecting compensation. However, a New York court will reduce the amount of damages awarded in proportion to your degree of fault. For example, in a personal injury proceeding, the jury will:
While this type of shared fault system can be forgiving, it also gives rise to wrongly placed blame being put onto injured plaintiffs by defendants.
Prior to 1975, New York applied the contributory negligence standard to personal injury cases. Plaintiffs who were proven to have contributed to their injury by failing to use reasonable care and found at least partially at fault, were barred from claiming damages.
When multiple parties are identified as defendants, the rule of joint and several liability will be followed. In New York, this rule permits a plaintiff to hold each defendant, or tortfeasor, collectively or individually responsible for the full amount of damages. This law also disregards the degree of fault, as the plaintiff can collect their entire judgment from any one of the liable parties or from all in various amounts. In some cases, a single tortfeasor may only be 1% at fault for a victim’s injuries, but can be forced to pay the plaintiff 100% of the judgement if the other defendants do not have the funds.
Negligence is the determining factor in all personal injury cases. An injured party (plaintiff) must prove the following four elements of negligence to demonstrate that a defendant’s actions are evidence of fault:
The liable party owed the plaintiff a duty of care. For example, driving carefully and following the rules of the road when behind the wheel.
This responsible party breached their duty by failing to act as a reasonable or prudent individual would have acted.
The breach of duty resulted in injury or harm to the plaintiff.
The injury itself caused the plaintiff real damages, either measurable or immeasurable damages.
Proving a party is at fault is not always straightforward. Enlisting the help of a New York personal injury attorney will ensure the proper evidence is gathered to assist in building a strong case.
Proving negligence and minimizing fault is vital to a successful personal injury claim. Having assertive and incisive representation by your side can significantly impact the outcome of your case. To learn your legal options today in a free case review or for more information on New York fault laws, call (212) 732-9000 or reach us online.