Accident victims sometimes feel that they are not entitled to recover damages– their medical bills, lost earnings, or their pain and suffering damages- if they were partially at fault for the accident. Fortunately, this is not the law in California. Under the law, if a plaintiff (the person suing for injuries or damages from an accident) is also at fault for causing the accident, the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault. The case is not ruined by the plaintiff’s responsibility for the accident.
This means that if a jury or judge finds that the plaintiff was 50% at fault for an accident, the jury’s damages (if the case goes to trial and results in an award of damages) are reduced by 50%, or whatever percentage that the judge or jury finds the plaintiff at fault for the accident.
The technical law on this issue is read to the jury by the judge before the jury makes a decision on the case. The law read to the jury by the judge is contained within the Judicial Counsel of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI). CACI number 405 reads that:
“Name of defendant] claims that [name of plaintiff]’s own negligence contributed to [his/her] harm. To succeed on this claim, [name of defendant] must prove both of the following:
- 1.That [name of plaintiff] was negligent; and
- 2.That [name of plaintiff]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing [his/her] harm.
If [name of defendant] proves the above, [name of plaintiff]’s damages are reduced by your determination of the percentage of [name of plaintiff]’s responsibility. I will calculate the actual reduction.”
The effect of CACI 405 is that the jury award for the plaintiff is reduced by the judge based upon what percentage the jury finds the plaintiff at fault for the accident. This does not mean that every case needs to go to trial for a determination of the parties’ percentage of fault. It is important to know, however, that the fact that you may be partially at fault for your accident does not prevent you from obtaining damages from an accident which is also caused or contributed to by another.