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Understanding comparative negligence in car accidents

New Jersey residents who travel the same roads day in and day out see numerous crashes, and there might come a time when many of them are involved in a wreck. Some car accidents are the sole responsibility of one driver, but it many cases, each of the drivers involved bears some liability. Fortunately, that does not mean that a driver cannot recover damages thanks to the state's comparative negligence law.

The legal theory of comparative negligence takes into account the percentage of fault of each driver. As long as a party is found to be 50 percent or less liable in an accident, he or she could receive restitution for damages. For example, if a claim in a minor accident is worth $1,000, and a driver is 10 percent responsible, that driver will receive $900 since the percentage of liability reduces damages. A driver found to be 51 percent responsible would not be entitled to restitution.

In serious or fatal accidents, personal injury or wrongful death claims could be filed with the New Jersey courts. In those cases, the court determines who was at fault for the accident and whether the parties share the responsibility. If the evidence establishes that another party bears the lion's share of the liability (more than 50 percent), then the injured party, or the family of a deceased victim, could be awarded damages.

Some people might be tempted to shy away from exercising their legal rights in serious or fatal car accidents because they believe the circumstances indicate that they, or a deceased loved one, were partially responsible. However, individuals who suffered serious injuries, or lost loved ones, in car accidents would benefit from discussing the matter with an attorney. Even partial restitution of the monetary and non-monetary damages incurred would more than likely be worth filing a claim.

Source: state.nj.us, "Auto Comparative Negligence Settlement -- Frequently Asked Questions", Accessed on Dec. 12, 2016

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