Personal injury law revolves around the legal concept of negligence, or one party’s failure to exercise due care in a given situation. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff’s personal injury attorney has the burden of proving the defendant in the case was negligent, and that the defendant’s negligence directly caused the plaintiff’s claimed damages.
Proving negligence in a personal injury claim requires establishing several aspects of negligence.
If a plaintiff’s attorney can successfully prove these elements of negligence, it is likely the plaintiff will succeed with the lawsuit. However, state laws can dramatically impact the outcome of any civil case. In Montana, the state adheres to a comparative negligence rule, which means a plaintiff’s level of fault for a claimed event can reduce the compensation he or she receives for a successful claim.
In states like Montana that follow comparative negligence laws, a plaintiff can still recover compensation even if he or she partially contributed to the damages claimed in the lawsuit. For example, imagine a driver is speeding slightly over the speed limit when another driver who is under the influence of alcohol swerves into the first driver’s lane and causes an accident. The drunk driver is clearly more at fault for the accident, but it is possible that he or she may claim that the first driver’s speeding contributed to the claimed damages.
In this case, the jury reviewing the case would assess the impact of the plaintiff’s speeding and consider expert witness testimony to determine the impact the plaintiff’s speeding had on the damages. If the plaintiff was only traveling about 5 mph over the posted speed limit, the jury may recognize that this is fairly commonplace and only reduce the plaintiff’s damages by a small amount. However, if the plaintiff was driving 20 mph over the speed limit, this is a serious moving violation and will likely negatively impact the plaintiff’s compensation much more.
The jury assesses each party’s level of fault in a comparative negligence state, and as long as the plaintiff’s fault percentage does not exceed that of the defendant or the combined fault of several defendants, the plaintiff can still recover compensation minus a percentage equal to his or her fault percentage. For example, in a $200,000 lawsuit in which the plaintiff was 30% at fault, the plaintiff loses 30% of case award or $60,000 for a net award of $140,000.
Anyone who suffers injuries and other damages due to another party’s negligence should consult with a personal injury attorney to start building a strong case and minimize the fault absorbed in the lawsuit.