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Can you recover compensation if you were partly at fault?

In a typical personal injury lawsuit involving a car accident, the plaintiff argues that the defendant caused the accident through negligence, and therefore should be held liable for the injured party’s damages. In a relatively straightforward case, the plaintiff and the defendant were the only people involved in the accident, and only one of them acted negligently. However, many accidents are not so simple. Sometimes, there are multiple cars involved in an accident. Sometimes, more than one party acts negligently and contributes to the accident.

How does a personal injury lawsuit work in motor vehicle accident cases such as this? If you were partly at fault for your accident, can you recover compensation for your damages?

The answer is yes, but there are some important limitations. Illinois law addresses cases such as this with a legal concept known as contributory negligence. Essentially, a plaintiff can recover compensation as long as they contributed no more than 50% of the fault for the accident. However, their recovery is reduced in proportion to their fault.

To illustrate how this works, imagine a case in which Adaline is driving southbound when she collides with Bernadette’s car. Bernadette is injured and her damages, including medical expenses and lost wages, total $100,000. Bernadette files suit against Adaline, hoping to hold Adaline liable for her damages. After both sides present their evidence, the court finds that Adaline acted negligently by failing to watch where she was going, but Bernadette also acted negligently by failing to use her turn signal. The court divides fault between the two parties and determines Adaline was 75% at fault and Bernadette was 25% at fault.

In such a case, Bernadette is able to recover because her share of the fault is less than 50%. However, she cannot recover the full $100,000 of her damages. Her compensation is reduced in proportion to her share of fault. Her share of fault is 25%. Therefore, the most she can recover from Adaline is $75,000.

Now imagine the same accident, but this time, Adaline is the one who suffers $100,000 in damages, and decides to file suit against Bernadette. In this case, Adaline is barred from recovery because the court has determined that she was more than 50% at fault for the accident.

Contributory negligence comes into play in many car accident cases, and it can often lead to complex questions of law and fact. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law may apply to the unique circumstances of your case.