When you are injured in a serious car accident in the Indianapolis area, one of the last things you want to hear is that you may not be able to recover because the defendant is arguing that you are partially to blame for the crash. This type of defense concerns a facet of the law known as contributory fault, which is sometimes discussed a comparative fault or comparative negligence. What is contributory fault? Under Indianapolis law (IC 34-51-2-6), contributory fault can sometimes bar a plaintiff from recovery, but not in all cases.
Contributory fault works differently from state to state. To help you understand how contributory fault works in Indiana car accidents, we would like to discuss a couple of different scenarios with you.
What Does the Law Say About Contributory Fault?
When it comes to comparative negligence, or contributory fault, Indiana law follows what is known as a 51 Percent Bar Rule. What does this mean in practice? If a plaintiff is more than 50 percent responsible for the accident itself or for the severity of her injuries, then she may be barred from recovering anything if she takes the case to trial. If a plaintiff is 50 percent or less at fault, then she can recover, but her damages will be reduced by her portion of liability.
You might be thinking: this sounds complicated. How does it work in practice?
Examples of Contributory Fault in Indiana Auto Collisions
To better understand how comparative fault law works in Indianapolis, let us take a couple of different hypothetical examples. First, imagine that John is driving on I-70, and he is speeding. In this scenario, John is driving 25 miles per hour over the speed limit and crashes into another vehicle from behind. The vehicle he crashes into was driven by Mark, who had rapidly changed lanes without paying attention—he did not see John speeding up from behind—because Mark was distracted while sending a text message on his phone. Mark files a car accident claim and seeks damages from John. At trial, John argues that Mark is partially to blame for the accident, and therefore Mark should not be able to recover. In this scenario, say the jury decides that Mark is indeed partially to blame, but he is only 40 percent responsible for the accident. In this case, John bears 60 percent of the responsibility for the crash.
If this is how a jury determines fault in the case, then Mark can still recover under Indiana law. However, his award will be reduced by the percentage by which the jury said he was responsible. For example, say that the jury determines that John is liable for $100,000 total—not yet taking into account Mark’s contributory fault. Now, that $100,000 will be reduced by Mark’s portion of the liability, or 40 percent. When we reduce the $100,000 award by 40 percent, we are left with $60,000. That is the amount Mark will recover.
Now, let us present the example above with a slightly different outcome. Imagine that the jury says Mark is 55 percent to blame, while John is 45 percent to blame. In this case, Mark would not be able to recover anything. Since Mark’s contributory fault is greater than the fault of John, whose fault proximately contributed to Mark’s damages, Mark cannot recover anything.
Seek Advice from an Indianapolis Auto Accident Lawyer
Contributory fault issues can be complicated, and it is important to discuss your case with an Indianapolis auto accident lawyer. Keep in mind that, even if you think you may have been partially at fault in a crash, it is important to avoid admitting to fault at any stage before speaking with a car accident attorney. Contact Holland & Holland to discuss your case today.