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What You Should Know About Comparative Negligence in New York

July 24, 2016

Comparative negligence is an interesting topic of discussion in New York State in regards to accident law and personal injury law. If someone is injured or involved in an accident, the biggest question most courts deal with is whether or not one of the parties is at fault. But what if both parties share at least part of the blame?  Different states handle that question in different ways. Here in New York, the doctrine that applies to cases where there may be more than one responsible party is called comparative negligence.

The website Findlaw defines negligence as occurring when “when one person acts carelessly, which somehow (either directly or indirectly) causes some type of injury or harm to another person.” Courts usually find someone is negligent when they determine that person didn’t exercise ordinary prudence towards somebody to whom they owed a duty of care.

The problem comes when more than one person involved in an incident is found to be negligent. In New York, the law involves determining the degree to which the party involved was negligent. For example, if a plaintiff in an accident case is at least partially responsible for what happened, that’s called contributory negligence. In a car accident case, if one driver was speeding and the other driver failed to use a turn signal, there’s negligence on the part of both parties. In some states, contributory negligence can bar a plaintiff from collecting damages in a lawsuit. But New York is not one of those states.

Things to Consider with Contributory Negligence in New York State

The law governing negligence in New York is found in section 1411 of the states’s Civil Practice laws and Rules (CPLR).  It states:

“In any action to recover damages for personal injury, injury to property, or wrongful death, the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or to the decedent, including contributory negligence or assumption of risk, shall not bar recovery, but the amount of damages otherwise recoverable shall be diminished in the proportion which the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or decedent bears to the culpable conduct which caused the damages.”

Simply put, plaintiffs in New York are not prevented from recovering damages in personal injury cases even if they are partially responsible, but the amount they recover will be lowered in proportion to the amount that they are at fault.

The jury in a personal injury case has the job of determining first, if the defendant was negligent, and then they must decide if the plaintiff was also at fault.

The defendant has the burden of proving that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible.  Once that’s done, the jury has the final task of apportioning fault between the two parties. This is done on a percentage basis. The percentage of fault must equal 100 percent. For example, a jury could find that the defendant is 70 percent responsible for an accident, while the plaintiff is 30 percent responsible. The plaintiff is not barred from recovering damages, but the amount of recovery would be 30 percent less.

New York’s comparative negligence law make it easier to recover damages, but it also makes personal injury cases more complex. The law office of Mikel J. Hoffman has over 30 years experience in handling these cases. Call today or fill out our contact form to get a free consultation.

The information in this material is not intended as legal advice. Please consult legal professionals for specific information regarding your individual situations.

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