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Fault is not always easy to determine

To cast blame is an all-too-human instinct, especially in the case of a fatal accident. But, as the saying goes, there are generally three sides to any story: their side, your side and the truth. So too in the law, which allows a person being sued for an accident to defend themselves by arguing that at least some of the responsibility for the accident lies with the person who filed the lawsuit.

This defense comes in two forms: comparative negligence or contributory negligence. Most states use comparative negligence, but a few prefer contributory negligence. Under comparative negligence, a person can sue another person for causing the accident regardless of whether the person who filed the lawsuit shared any responsibility for the accident. But, at the same time, if the plaintiff was partially responsible, then any damages that a judge or jury awards will be reduced by the percentage that they were responsible.

To put that in an example: Let's say Don hit Pete. Don was 70 percent responsible and Pete was 30 responsible. If Pete sues Don and receives a damages award of $100,000, how much does he actually get? Only $70,000. That is because 30 percent of the damages are subtracted to account for Pete's responsibility in the crash.

Much less common is contributory negligence, which is used by a handful of southern jurisdictions. Under contributory negligence, a person cannot file a lawsuit against another person if they were negligent at all. Consider our example again. This time Pete would get nothing because he was 30 percent at fault.

Source: FindLaw, "Contributory and Comparative Negligence: Defenses in Car Accident Cases," Accessed Aug. 16, 2016

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