Understanding comparative fault

Understanding comparative fault

In many car accident-related lawsuits, one party was clearly at fault. If the party at fault caused the injured parties’ damages, the party at fault can be held liable, and the injured parties can recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.

Many other cases are not so clear. Sometimes, the evidence doesn’t clearly show who was at fault for the accident. Sometimes, the evidence shows that more than one driver was at fault.

These cases raise an interesting question: Can someone who was partly at fault for an accident recover compensation for their damages in a personal injury lawsuit?

New Mexico law

Under New Mexico law, the answer is yes. For these cases, New Mexico follows a legal theory known as pure comparative fault. A person who was partly at fault for an accident in which they were injured can recover compensation for their damages, but their recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of fault.

To illustrate how this works, imagine a case involving two drivers, Bill and Ted. Bill is injured and files a personal injury lawsuit against Ted seeking compensation for his $100,000 in damages. After examining the evidence, the court determines that both Bill and Ted were at fault for the accident. The court finds that Bill was 40% at fault and Ted was 60% at fault. Therefore, Bill can hold Ted liable for his injuries, but Bill’s recovery is reduced by 40%. Instead of recovering $100,000, Bill can recover $60,000 at most.

Theoretically, Bill could recover even if he was mostly at fault for the accident. Under the pure comparative fault system, a person who was as much as 99% at fault for an accident could succeed in a lawsuit, but their recovery amount would be reduced by 99%.

These cases can be difficult, but the damages people suffer in car accidents are very real. The injured and their families need all the help they can get to cope with the long aftermath of an injury.

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