The Law Firm of Leisawitz Heller

What is comparative negligence in Pennsylvania?

Most people in Pennsylvania understand that a person is legally liable for an injury or death caused by his negligence, or failure to use due care. How does the law treat a case where more than one person is at fault? Before World War II, most state laws said that a person whose negligence, no matter how slight the degree of fault, contributed to the mishap, could not maintain a lawsuit for damages. In other words, a person who may have been only one percent at fault in a car accident was totally barred from seeking damages from a person who may have been 99 percent at fault.

Realizing the harshness and unfairness of this rule, known as contributory negligence, states began to modify their laws by allowing juries to allocate fault among all people at fault. In 1976, Pennsylvania abolished the old doctrine of contributory negligence and adopted what is now called "comparative negligence."

Juries in Pennsylvania must allocate fault for all of the injures among the various parties. A plaintiff who is found to be negligent can still recover damages from any party who is assessed with a higher percentage of fault. For example, if one party in a two-car accident is found to be 45 percent negligent, that party can still recover from the party who was 55 percent at fault. After the verdict is returned, the judge will enter an order apportioning the award of damages according to the jury's allocation of fault. In the above hypothetical, a plaintiff who suffered damages of $100,000 and was 45 percent at fault will have his damages reduced by 45 percent and will recover only $55,000. The other driver recovers nothing.

Comparative negligence can become a very complicated rule in accidents involving more than two parties. Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a multi-vehicle accident may wish to consult one of the accident lawyers at Leisawitz Heller in Reading for an analysis of the evidence and law that will determine the case.

Source: Pennsylvania Consol. Stat. §42-7102, accessed on May 29, 2017

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