California Comparative Negligence Laws

Have you or a loved one been seriously injured in an Orange County car accident? Our car accident attorneys can help you file a personal injury lawsuit to obtain the compensation you deserve for your injuries caused by a negligent tortfeasor. Contact us to speak with our attorneys about your potential claim.

Overview of California Comparative Negligence Laws

Under California State law, if you file a personal injury claim against a negligent tortfeasor for bodily injury or property damage sustained in a car accident, you can be awarded damages to compensate you for your injuries, even if you were partially at fault for the accident.

Under California’s “pure” comparative negligence doctrine, an injured party may recover damages even if he or she is at fault for contributing to the car accident. The ultimate award of damages the plaintiff will receive will be reduced by her own percentage of fault. This means that the plaintiff can recover damages even if she is more than 50% at fault for the personal injury or property damage resulting from the car accident.

Prior to the adoption of California’s pure comparative negligence law doctrine in 1975, individuals were awarded personal injury awards stemming from car accidents based on the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if you were even slightly at fault in a car accident, you would be completely barred from recovering monetary damages – even if someone else caused your injury.

Li v. Yellow Cab Co., is a California Supreme Court case that adopted the doctrine of “pure” comparative negligence in California tort law, rejecting strict contributory negligence.

Li (P) was struck by a cab driver for Yellow Cab Co. (D) as she was crossing three lanes of traffic to enter a gas station. The cab driver had been driving too fast and had run a yellow light. Li brought her lawsuit to recover for personal injuries and damages arising from the accident.

The trial court entered a judgment barring damages for Li on the grounds that she had been contributory negligent.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that comparative negligence was a preferable rule to the “all-or-nothing” contributory negligence rule. See 13 Cal.3d 804, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858, 532 P.2d 1226 (1975).

How is Pure Comparative Negligence Applied in California?

SCENARIO 1

A driver is swerving back-and-forth on a busy street. Another driver speeds up, exceeding the speed limit, to try to pass the swerving driver. The swerving driver smashes into the speeding driver. How should fault be assigned for the personal injury sustained under California’s pure comparative negligence law?

The swerving driver is likely the more at fault. However, the swerving driver could argue that he would not have crashed into the other car had the driver not been speeding. That is a critical decision because the injured plaintiff’s recovery would reduced by his or her percentage of fault.

SCENARIO 2

A drunk driver is speeding on the highway at night. Another driver is driving the speed limit, but his or her headlights are not on. The drunk driver crashes into the car with no headlights on. What is a fair percentage to assign to the less-blameworthy driver?  Whatever percentage a jury decides based on the evidence it hears will be used to reduce the prevailing plaintiff’s recovery.  If both drivers are hurt and sue each other, each would recover damages, having the full measure of his or her damages reduced by his or her percentage of fault as determined by the jury.

Contact Our Orange County Car Accident Attorneys for Legal Representation

Our Orange County car accident attorneys can help you determine the cause of your accident and obtain the compensation you deserve. We provide legal representation to Fullerton, Irvine, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach, California residents.