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Comparative Negligence

In many car accident cases, it is obvious who is at fault. One motorist is obeying the law and driving carefully, only to be struck by a reckless or negligent motorist who runs a red light, refuses to yield, or makes some other dangerous mistake on the road. In these cases, 100% of the responsibility for the accident lies with one motorist.

Not every case is this simple, however. Sometimes, even the victim was driving negligently at the time of the accident. If so, a question arises under Nevada law as to whether the victim can receive compensation. The answer isn’t always a clear “yes” or “no.” Instead, we need to analyze the facts using Nevada’s law of comparative negligence. Our Las Vegas car accident lawyer takes a close look at this legal doctrine and explains how it might apply to your case.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence goes by many names, including comparative fault. The basic concept is easy to understand. If both motorists have been negligent, then we need to compare their negligence to determine who had the greater role in the accident. The fact that one motorist makes some mistake—such as failing to use a turn signal—doesn’t automatically make him or her 100% to blame. It could be that the other motorist was speeding 30 miles over the limit while being intoxicated. In that situation, one motorist might be 90% to blame while the other was 10%. This is what it means to compare negligence.

The degree of fault can have enormous consequences in a case. For that reason, our Las Vegas car accident lawyers always carefully weigh all relevant factors that go into a car accident.

Who Decides Comparative Negligence?

It will depend on where you are with your car accident case. If you are negotiating a settlement with an insurance company, then the insurance adjusters will determine comparative negligence by reviewing all evidence, such as dashcam footage, witness statements, and damage to the vehicles.

If your case goes to trial, however, then the judge or jury will weigh comparative negligence. They will also consider much the same evidence to reach their conclusion.

Comparative Negligence Can Bar a Lawsuit

Comparative negligence can sometimes prevent a person from receiving any compensation. Each state has adopted its own version of comparative negligence:

  • Contributory negligence: This is the oldest version of comparative negligence, which the U.S. colonies adopted from England. Under contributory negligence, any negligence on a victim’s part will prohibit a lawsuit. In other words, a victim could be 1% to blame—and they will be prohibited from suing for compensation, even if another motorist is 99% to blame. Because this is such an extreme version of comparative negligence, most states have adopted different systems. Today, contributory negligence exists in only a few states, such as Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Pure comparative negligence. On the other end of the spectrum is a pure comparative negligence scheme. With this system, a victim can always sue for compensation provided someone else is at least 1% to blame. In other words, a victim can be 99% to blame but they can still sue provided someone else bears any responsibility. Pure comparative negligence schemes have become more popular over the years, and large states like California and Florida operate under this system.
  • Modified comparative negligence—the 50% bar. Most states avoid the extremes of both contributory negligence and pure comparative negligence. Instead, they adopt a “modified” comparative negligence rule. The first version is the 50% bar. In a state with this system, a victim can only sue if their negligence was “less than” the other driver’s negligence. In other words, a victim must be less than 50% to blame.
  • Modified comparative negligence—the 51% bar. With this rule, a victim can sue provided their negligence is “not greater” than the defendant’s. In other words, they can be up to 50% to blame but not 51%.

Nevada is a 51% Bar State

Nevada’s comparative negligence rule can be found at Revised Statutes 41.141. It states that a plaintiff’s comparative negligence does not bar financial recovery provided it was “not greater” than the defendant’s negligence. As you can see, Nevada has adopted the 51% bar. A victim in our state can be as negligent as the defendants—but not more.

Comparative Negligence Can Reduce Damages

The primary goal of a personal injury lawsuit is to receive compensation for your injuries. Car accidents often cost our clients tens of thousands of dollars—sometimes even more. Victims must obtain pricey medical care, rehabilitation, and prescription drugs. Even worse, they might be unable to work and lose out on necessary income as they struggle to recover. Car accidents also cause pain and suffering which warrants some sort of financial redress.

However, if you have been negligent, your compensation will be reduced proportionally by your degree of fault. For example, if you were 40% to blame, you will receive 40% less in compensation. Someone whose losses total $100,000 will only receive $60,000. If their negligence was 50%, they would receive only $50,000.

And what happens if their negligence was 60%? As mentioned above, Nevada operates with a 51% bar rule. This means a victim cannot receive any compensation in our state, unlike in California, where they could still receive money damages.

Examples of Comparative Negligence

In the car accident context, negligence takes many forms. For example, a motorist might have contributed to their accident by:

  • Driving distracted
  • Failing to yield
  • Failing to check their mirrors or blind spot
  • Driving while fatigued
  • Failing to scan the road ahead

However, under Nevada law, failure to wear a seatbelt cannot be used as evidence of negligence. Quite obviously, seatbelts save lives and prevent injuries, so a careful person should wear one. Why can’t your failure to wear a seatbelt be used to prove negligence? Essentially, this is a policy choice the legislature has made, so evidence of wearing a seatbelt can’t come in.

How a Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Can Help

So much is riding on comparative negligence. As we have seen, if your negligence is too high—51% or more—then you are barred from receiving compensation. This means you’ll have to stomach the financial losses all on your own.
In other situations, however, you can still sue but will lose out on valuable income. Someone who is 50% to blame can still get some money—but not nearly enough to cover all their losses.

This is where a seasoned attorney is an asset. At Naqvi, for example, we carefully listen to our client’s retelling of how the accident unfolded. We also try to minimize any negligence on our client’s part. For this reason, it is vital that you do not give a statement to the insurance companies. They will be fishing for admissions or other negative information that shows you are partially to blame for the accident. They can limit their financial exposure in this way—and cost you valuable compensation.

Naqvi Can Assist in a Car Accident Case

If you made some mistake leading up to the crash, don’t worry. Our legal team has the knowledge necessary to put your actions in the proper frame of reference. One mistake behind the wheel—such as looking at a cell phone or becoming distracted by eating food—shouldn’t prevent you from getting compensation when a reckless or negligent driver strikes you.

Please contact us today. Our firm can swing into action and handle all communications between you and the different insurance adjusters. To learn more, schedule a free consultation.