If you were recently injured due to someone else’s negligence, you might be evaluating whether you have a valid lawsuit on your hands. One of your main concerns might be whether your own mistakes could play a role in your recovery.
Fortunately, New Jersey state law gives plaintiffs the chance to recover even if they played a small role in causing the accident or their own injuries. The 51% modified contributory negligence rule will instruct a jury to award damages proportionally to the level of blame shared by the parties, so long as the plaintiff’s side isn’t more than half.
For help evaluating your claim’s chances or the potential value of your lawsuit, contact Legal Care New Jersey. We can set you up with a dedicated New Jersey personal injury attorney who will represent you throughout your case. Get a free initial case evaluation when you call us today at (732) 838-9769.
New Jersey’s Modified Contributory Negligence Rule
The State of New Jersey uses a modified contributory negligence theory to evaluate damages in civil cases where the plaintiff shared some of the responsibility for causing either the accident or their own injuries. New Jersey is one of many states that have opted for modified contributory rules in this area.
Essentially, the modified contributory negligence rule works by reducing damages proportionally to the amount of fault attributed to the defendant as opposed to the plaintiff. The jury calculates the distribution of fault in their deliberations.
To put it a different way, the jury will assess the case and determine the exact percentage of blame that the plaintiff should take for their own harms. They will then remove that percentage of the damages they would have awarded if the defendant was 100% at fault.
This system operates so that plaintiffs can still recover some of their damages, even if they played a smaller role in causing their own harms. This shifts, however, if the plaintiff did more to contribute to the accident or their own injuries than the defendant. If the jury finds that the plaintiff’s contributory negligence accounted for more than 50% of the fault in causing their own harms, the plaintiff will be barred from recovering anything at all from their suit.
Examples of New Jersey’s Modified Contributory Negligence Rule
Sometimes, the best way to explain a legal concept is by applying it to hypothetical situations that might arise in a courtroom. Below are three situations where the modified contributory negligence rule comes into play in a car accident case. Note, however, that the state’s modified contributory negligence rules apply to all personal injury cases, not just car accidents.
Situation #1 – Contributory Negligence in Causing the Accident
Let’s say that Jessica, the plaintiff, is suing Mark, the defendant, for $50,000 in damages after he allegedly caused an accident at an intersection that totaled Jessica’s car and left her with a concussion, whiplash, and multiple broken bones in her hands and face. Mark was stopped at the intersection and had a red light, but he was late for work and decided to drive through it. Jessica, approaching the intersection from Mark’s left, saw that the light was yellow and decided to speed up to beat the light.
Mark peeled out in front of Jessica, causing her to T-bone Mark’s car. Jessica could not slow down enough to reduce the impact with Mark’s car because she was going faster than the speed limit.
The jury determines that Mark’s failure to heed the red light was negligent and was the primary cause of the accident. However, they also found that Jessica’s speeding was a 20% contributing factor in causing the accident. In this case, Jessica would be awarded $40,000, or 80% of the damages she claimed.
Situation #2 – Contributory Negligence in Causing the Injuries
Let’s use the same example as above, only instead of speeding, Jessica’s contributory negligence was her failure to wear a seat belt. Mark can demonstrate that Jessica’s injuries would have been substantially less severe had she been wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. However, the accident still would have occurred, regardless of whether Jessica was wearing a seat belt or not.
The jury is instructed to view negligence that causes injuries differently than negligence that causes the actual accident. Let’s say that of the $50,000 that Jessica claimed, $30,000 was based on medical bills and lost wages due to her recovery from her injuries, while $20,000 was the replacement value of her totaled car. Jessica would still get the $20,000 for her car because her failure to wear a seat belt would not have prevented this damage. However, if the court determines that Jessica’s negligence was 33% responsible, she will only be able to recover $20,000 of her bodily injury damages, bringing her total recovery to $40,000.
Situation #3 – The 51% Rule
For the third and final example, let’s say that Jessica was driving at the speed limit and had her seat belt properly fastened, but was also coming from the bar and had a blood alcohol content of .16 (twice the legal limit). The jury, in this case, determines that a driver who was not inebriated would have had the motor skills and reflex time to avoid the accident entirely and place 60% of the blame at Jessica’s feet. Jessica will be barred from any of her recovery at all.
Questions About New Jersey Comparative Negligence Law? Call Legal Care New Jersey
At Legal Care New Jersey, we know this information can be hard to digest. Get a thorough initial case evaluation for free today when you call our Jersey City personal injury lawyers at (732) 838-9769.