Contributory Negligence in Car Accident Injury Claims

When it comes to liability in Spartanburg car accident injury cases, blame is not always clear-cut.
There are times when a driver who suffered severe injuries may be partially at-fault. This is referred to as contributory negligence or comparative negligence.

Contributory negligence does not mean that the driver can’t seek compensation for damages. It does mean that the amount of compensation you might be able to collect could be somewhat reduced. The extent to which that is the case is best weighed by an experienced injury attorney. Doing this before speaking to an insurance adjuster may help you to maximize the size of your claim.

South Carolina uses the modified comparative negligence standard. The law states that if your portion of the fault is greater than 50 percent, than you can’t seek compensation. However, if the other party shares more than half the blame, you can still file a lawsuit for damages. If the court finds that you are 40 percent at fault for the accident, your award will be reduced by 40 percent.

So let’s say you win a claim for $50,000, but have been assigned 40 percent of the fault. Your claim would be reduced by $20,000, meaning your take-home would be $30,000. Certainly most people would find this still to be a claim worth pursuing.

Never conclude that you are the more at-fault party in the case until you’ve talked to an injury lawyer. Many times, it all comes down to what can be proven.

A recent ruling out of Mississippi reveals how plaintiffs may even be able to seek compensation from multiple sources, even when contributory negligence is a factor, depending on the circumstances. In Clark v. Neese, the issue of contributory negligence played a central role.

According to court documents, a log truck driver struck the rear of a car. The driver of that car, who had just pulled onto the highway, was killed. His wife, in the passenger seat, was seriously injured and suffered permanent disability and diminished mental capacity.

The widow, individually and and as a beneficiary of a wrongful death case on behalf of her husband, sued the driver of that truck. The trucker, in requests for admission, asked that attorneys for the widow concede that her husband’s negligence had caused the wreck. This request was rejected, with attorneys arguing that but for the truck driver’s negligence, her husband would have been able to safely enter the highway.

Following the discovery phase, the truck driver moved for a summary judgment, arguing that the evidence showed the car driver was at fault. The judge denied this request, saying that the question of fault was one for the jury, even if the plaintiffs did not appear to contest the potential for contributory negligence.

The two sides subsequently settled.

Afterward, the widow’s daughter, on behalf of her mother, filed suit against her father’s estate for compensation, alleging that her father had negligently failed to yield the right of way and pulled out onto the highway at a very low rate of speed, causing an accident that resulted in her mother’s permanent disabilities.

The estate moved for a summary judgment on the grounds of judicial estoppel that this argument was materially different than what had been argued in the earlier claim.

However, the daughter countered that her mother’s initial claim against the truck driver was founded upon the belief that the trucker was to blame, but that information revealed in the discovery portion of that case led her to believe that her husband was in fact the one to blame.

The trial judge initially found in favor of the estate, finding the inconsistencies were not inadvertent.

The daughter appealed, with the case winding its way all the way to the state supreme court; The high court reversed the earlier ruling, allowing the claim against the estate to move forward.

The court reasoned that the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of judicial estoppel, and that the widow had never disputed the possibility of contributory negligence in her earlier claim and the case was settled out of court, with neither party conceding fault.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Clark v. Neese, Dec. 12, 2013, In the Supreme Court of Mississippi

More Blog Entries:
3 Killed in North Carolina Crash Blamed on Alcohol, Nov. 30, 2013, Spartanburg Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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