When someone is injured in a car accident, they often have many thoughts racing through their head: could they have avoided the accident? Is there anything different they could have done? Who was at fault? Defendants will often try and use this thinking to convince a jury that the plaintiff was also at fault for the incident and, therefore, should be found negligent. This is called comparative fault. The comparative fault principle applies when the plaintiff’s actions contributed to their injuries. When it applies, comparative negligence reduces the defendant’s overall liability. However, many people are surprised to learn that this principle can also be applied in wrongful death cases.
According to a recent news report, a 10-year-old girl was killed in a car crash on Interstate 75 in Sumter County. The driver of the vehicle reduced his speed for traffic – which had slowed down ahead of him – and the vehicle was struck in the rear. The force of the crash pushed the car into the center median, where it hit a guardrail and the car overturned. The driver suffered minor injuries, and the child died at the scene. The report indicates neither the child nor the driver was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.
In tragic accidents like the one above, potential defendants will likely claim comparative fault as a part of their defense, to lessen their own liability. In a wrongful death case, the jury is tasked with determining if the deceased was partially responsible for their own death; and, if so, which percentage of comparative fault is attributable to them. If the deceased is found to be partially responsible for the accident, their family’s recovery of damages will be reduced by the percentage the deceased is found liable. For instance, if the jury determines the deceased was 20% at fault for the accident that caused their death, their loved ones will only receive 80% of the awarded damages.