In order to recover compensation for severe injuries suffered in a car crash, the plaintiff must be able to prove the defendant was at fault. But what happens if both parties shared responsibility for the accident? In this article, our car accident lawyers will explain how partial or shared fault affects compensation in Oklahoma.
Pure Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Fault
There are two systems for allocating fault: contributory negligence, and comparative fault.
Contributory negligence means that the plaintiff contributed to his or her own injury through his or her own negligence – for instance, a pedestrian who gets hit by a car while attempting to run across a busy road without using the crosswalk. If the pedestrian files a claim against the driver, the driver may raise contributory negligence as a defense. In the small number of states which follow the doctrine of pure contributory negligence, a plaintiff can be barred from recovering any compensation if they were even 1% at fault.
As you might imagine, pure contributory negligence can pose a major obstacle to personal injury victims. Fortunately, Oklahoma follows a less stringent doctrine, which is known as comparative fault.
Comparative fault is divided into two sub-doctrines: pure comparative fault, and modified comparative fault.
In pure comparative fault, an injury victim may recover damages even if he or she was 99% at fault for the accident. However, the compensation will be reduced to reflect his or her degree of fault. For instance, if the defendant was 75% at fault and the plaintiff was 25% at fault, the plaintiff’s compensation would be reduced from $1 million to $750,000, from $500,000 to $375,000, from $100,000 to $75,000, and so forth.
Along with nearly two dozen other states, Oklahoma follows the doctrine of modified comparative fault with a 51% Bar Rule, so named because the plaintiff cannot recover compensation if he or she was at 51% at fault (or more). In Oklahoma, the plaintiff can only recover compensation if he or she was less than 51% at fault. Additionally, any damages awarded to the plaintiff will be reduced according to his or her degree of fault for the accident, as we described in our above examples.
This is provided by Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 23 § 13, which states the following:
“In all actions hereafter brought… for negligence resulting in personal injuries or wrongful death, or [property damage], contributory negligence shall not bar a recovery, unless any negligence of the [plaintiff] is of greater degree than any negligence of the [defendant], or unless any negligence of the [plaintiff] is of greater degree than the combined negligence of any [defendants].”
In everyday language, this statute is saying that a plaintiff’s contribution to his or her own accident won’t necessarily prevent him or her from obtaining compensation (“shall not bar a recovery”), as long as the plaintiff had a lesser degree of fault than the defendant. If Oklahoma was a pure contributory negligence state, recovery could be barred even if the defendant was 99% at fault for the accident.
The reduction of damages to reflect partial fault is provided by Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 23 § 14, which states the following:
“Where… contributory negligence is shown on the part of the [plaintiff], the amount of the recovery shall be diminished in proportion to [the plaintiff’s] contributory negligence.”
What Does the Plaintiff Have to Prove to Be Awarded Compensation?
Regardless of whether fault is shared or lies solely with the defendant, the plaintiff must always be able to prove four elements in order to be awarded compensation:
- The defendant had a duty of care toward the plaintiff. Proving this element in car accident cases is fairly straightforward, because all drivers have a duty of care toward all other drivers. All motorists are obligated to obey traffic laws in order to reduce the risk of foreseeable deaths or injuries – in short, to drive safely.
- The defendant breached, or violated, his or her duty of care. This might involve taking an improper action (such as running a red light), or failing to take necessary action (such as failing to stop at a stop sign). Other common examples of negligent and reckless driving behaviors include speeding, following too closely (“tailgating”), failing to observe right-of-way, making improper left turns, failing to stop at a pedestrian crosswalk, and texting while driving or otherwise failing to pay adequate attention to the surrounding environment.
- The defendant’s breach of duty resulted in personal injury, property damage, and/or wrongful death. This element is known as “causation.” Both actual causation and proximate (legal) causation must be proven by the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff suffered actual physical or emotional injuries and/or property damage as a result. This element is known as “damages.”
If you were injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation – even if the accident was partially your fault. To start exploring your legal options in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call the personal injury lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 235-1551. Our accomplished attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience handling a wide variety of automotive accident claims, including truck accidents and motorcycle accidents.