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Negligence is a legal theory used in most personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Someone is negligent if they fail to act in a way that is reasonable and prudent based on the circumstances. For example, if a driver reads a text message behind the wheel and hits a pedestrian, that driver is negligent. Negligence that causes injury can place liability – legal and financial responsibility – on the at-fault party. If the victim was also at fault, a doctrine known as comparative negligence can impact how much the victim receives in financial compensation.
Comparative negligence refers to an injured victim’s own degree of negligence or fault for the accident in question or the injury being claimed. There are two different types of laws: contributory negligence and comparative negligence. Contributory negligence states are less common. In these states, a victim is barred from financial recovery with any degree of fault; even one percent of the blame makes a victim ineligible for financial compensation from the defendant. A comparative negligence state is more sympathetic to victims.
A comparative negligence law allows both parties – the plaintiff and defendant – to share fault for the injury without preventing the plaintiff from recovering. With a comparative negligence rule, the courts allow a plaintiff to receive an amount of money that is equivalent to the defendant’s percentage of fault. In other words, the total settlement or judgment award is reduced by the plaintiff’s degree of negligence. An example is a $100,000 judgment being reduced to $85,000 after a plaintiff is found to be 15 percent responsible for his or her injury.
Depending on the rule in the state, there may be a limit to how much fault the plaintiff can have while remaining eligible for financial recovery. Many states cap comparative negligence at 50 to 51 percent, meaning if the victim is found to be more than half responsible for an accident, he or she is not allowed to recover. These states are known as modified comparative negligence states. In pure comparative negligence states, a victim can have any degree of fault – up to 99 percent – and still recover compensation.
Yes, Missouri is a comparative negligence state, not a contributory negligence state. Revisor of Missouri Section 537.765 abolished the rule of contributory fault, which previously barred a plaintiff’s recovery for any degree of fault in a products liability claim. The current law holds that even if the filing party is found to be responsible for their injuries, they will still be eligible for partial financial compensation. Missouri is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning there is no cap on how much a plaintiff can be found at fault and still receive compensation.
In addition, Missouri uses a joint and several liability law for defendants in a tort action. Section 537.067 states that all defendants who are found to be 51 percent or more at fault for an injury are jointly and severally liable for any judgment award entered. This means that all defendants who are allocated at least 51 percent of the blame are individually responsible for the full amount of the victim’s damages. Any defendant found to be less than 51 percent at fault will only be responsible for the percentage of the judgment award for which the defendant is to blame.
If you believe you are partially to blame for an accident in Missouri, do not assume that you are ineligible for financial recovery. Missouri’s pure comparative negligence rule may still allow you to recover partial compensation from one or more other parties. However, it is important to work with an attorney to minimize your degree of fault, as this will allow you to maximize your family’s financial recovery. Discuss how the comparative negligence rule may impact your personal injury case in more detail with a personal injury attorney in Kansas City today.