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Most personal injury claims center on the legal theory of negligence. The broad definition of negligence is to act outside of one’s duties of care. Acting carelessly or recklessly could constitute negligence if the individual fails to uphold the accepted standards of care for the situation. If negligence causes injury or damage to another person, the negligent party could be legally responsible. Negligence could take a few different forms in a personal injury case in California.
Most states follow contributory negligence, comparative negligence or a combination of the two types of laws. California is a pure comparative negligence state. California Civil Code section 1714 states that an at-fault party’s (defendant’s) liability will only extend as much as is appropriate for his or her degree of fault. The injured party (plaintiff) could absorb some liability for the accident if he or she was also negligent.
A plaintiff’s comparative fault for the injuries will reduce the defendant’s degree of fault accordingly in California. The state’s pure fault laws mean a plaintiff could be 98% at fault for the accident and still recover 2% of a compensation award. The courts will simply reduce the plaintiff’s recovery by his or her degree of fault. For example, if a plaintiff were 15% at fault for a car accident, he or she would receive $85,000 of a $100,000 award ($100,000 minus $15,000, or 15%).
In contributory negligence states, any amount of negligence on the plaintiff’s part will bar him or her from financial recovery. A defendant could be mostly responsible for an accident, yet still not owe the plaintiff anything for damages if the defendant proves contributory negligence.
Most states do not follow contributory negligence laws but have instead have moved to comparative fault laws. Some states use a combination of both types of negligence laws, setting a maximum percentage of fault (often 49% to 51%) before the courts will take away a plaintiff’s right to recovery.
Gross negligence describes any severe type of negligence. It often refers to someone’s recklessness, wanton disregard for the safety of others or intent to harm another person. Examples of gross negligence include drunk driving, falling asleep behind the wheel and operating on the wrong patient. In cases involving gross negligence that causes serious injuries, judges often award punitive damages to victims. Punitive damages punish the defendant for especially wrongful or malicious acts.
Vicarious negligence, or vicarious liability, refers to one party’s responsibility for another’s actions. This type of negligence often applies in cases involving employees that cause accidents. For example, if an on-duty bus driver causes an accident by texting and driving, the bus company could be vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver. Vicarious negligence can also apply to a parent with a minor child or a pet owner with a pet. Understanding vicarious liability could help a victim name the correct defendant during a claim.
The doctrine of negligence per se holds that a defendant is negligent without the victim needing any further proof than the act itself. Negligence per se comes from the Latin phrase per se, meaning within itself. Saying an act is negligent per se means the act is negligent within itself, without further need of proof of wrongdoing.
Courtrooms in California rarely allow plaintiffs to use the argument of negligence per se against defendants, but it might apply in cases involving broken laws. If someone breaks a law, such as driving drunk, and this causes another person’s injuries, the broken law could be enough proof within itself to hold the defendant liable. Negligence per se makes a case easier to win than the typical negligence doctrine in a personal injury case in California.
If you were a victim of another’s negligence and sustained serious injuries, contact us. The Orange County personal injury lawyers at DiMarco | Araujo | Montevideo can help you recover the compensation you deserve.