Comparative negligence law is an important concept to understand in Florida. It can significantly impact the amount you can recover or will have to pay in a lawsuit.
Is Florida a Comparative Fault State?
Yes, Florida is a comparative fault state that practices pure comparative negligence, in which your negligence level is not a bar to recovery for damages even if you were mostly at fault for them.
Two Major Types of Comparative Negligence
Not all comparative fault laws are the same. Different comparative negligence statutes can cause drastically different outcomes in cases. Here is an explanation of the two most common types of comparative negligence doctrines.
Pure Comparative Negligence
Pure comparative negligence means that a party’s responsibility in a lawsuit is commensurate to their level of negligence. In other words, you can be more or less negligent than other parties, which is usually calculated as a fault percentage.
For example, say two cars were backing up in a parking lot and bumped into each other. They were both backing up at about the same speed and collided halfway between their respective spots. In this case, both drivers would probably be found to be equally negligent (50% each).
If one of the at-fault drivers sought to sue the other for car repairs, they would likely only be able to recover 50% of the repair costs. Likewise, the other at-fault driver could countersue for 50% of their damages.
In comparison, if one of the drivers remained in their spot and the other backed up into them, that driver would be 100% at fault. The parked driver would be able to recover 100% of repair costs, and the other driver would not be able to countersue since the parked driver was 0% at fault.
Any other percentages of fault are possible, and the comparative negligence rule applies to more than just car accidents.
Modified Comparative Negligence
For modified comparative negligence, the same basic rules apply except that the party found to be the majority at fault cannot sue the other party.
For example, if one driver backed halfway out of their spot and stopped, but the other driver continued to back out and struck them, it might be found that the fault was 70/30. In this case, the driver that had stopped would be able to sue the driver that did not, though they would only be able to recover 70% of their damages since they were still 30% responsible for the incident.
Unlike pure comparative negligence, the other party would not be able to countersue because they were mostly at fault. Under pure comparative negligence, they would be able to sue for 30% of their damages, but under modified comparative negligence, they would not.
Joint and Several Liability
Under joint and several liability, each defendant is wholly responsible for damages to the plaintiff if found guilty. That means a single plaintiff could sue multiple at-fault parties for the same, full amount of damages they caused.
However, in Florida, joint and several liability is not practiced. Similar to pure comparative negligence, when multiple at-fault parties are in a lawsuit, each is only responsible for their portion of the damages.
For example, take the parking lot incident but add an illegally parked car that made it difficult for the driver backing up to see the victim. It could be found that driver backing up was 90% at fault, but the illegally parked vehicle was 10% responsible (in this case, the victim is found 0% liable).
The victim could then sue the driver who backed up for 90% of damages and the illegally parked vehicle owner for 10% of damages to recover the full 100%. This way, the more at-fault parties pay a higher portion of the damages.
Who Decides the Percentage of Fault in Florida?
Civil courts decide the fault percentage in a Florida case. Sometimes this will be a judge, other times a jury, and in some cases, a fact-finding party will be appointed for the apportioning of fault.
Your chance to receive adequate compensation will rely on a trial judge or jury or your insurance company acknowledging that someone else’s negligent conduct caused the accident and your injuries.
Not Just for Car Accidents
While we have been using minor car accidents as examples, comparative negligence can apply to many other situations. In any case of negligence where the plaintiff is seeking economic damages in Florida, comparative negligence can come into play if a single defendant is not entirely at fault.
Comparative Negligence in Personal Injury Cases
Personal injury claims are more severe scenarios where comparative negligence may apply. This could be in the event of a car crash, workplace incident, or many other situations.
Any personal injury claim will require you to identify the party who was responsible for damages, that they violated the duty of care, and provide evidence to establish the full extent of damages.
Suppose a defendant is partially at fault for an injury sustained by a plaintiff. In that case, they can be responsible for their portion of monetary damages, including medical bills, lost wages, or even pain and suffering.
Examples of Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence can come into play in just about any case of negligence where monetary damages are sought. Here are a few examples:
- An automobile accident where multiple drivers are found at fault
- A workplace incident where both the employer and employee acted irresponsibly
- A home improvement project where contractors broke code at the owner’s behest
- A fire that started as the result of a homeowner’s and guest’s negligence
- A dog bite where the victim provoked an unsecured pet in a public place
In each of these cases, multiple negligent parties could be found at fault, affecting their financial liability by a proportional amount.
When You Need a Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured by the negligence of others, whether you believe they were partially or wholly at fault, a personal injury lawyer can help you understand Florida’s comparative fault principles. A personal injury lawsuit is a huge deal and having legal representation is crucial for recovering fair financial compensation.
Our personal injury lawyers understand comparative negligence and can help you estimate the relative liability of each party in your case. This is important for knowing not only how much the injured party may be able to recover but also the potential liability in the event of a countersuit. Contact the Denmon Pearlman team today for your free consultation.