In Oklahoma City, it’s not always a clear-cut case of one party being entirely to blame. That’s where understanding comparative fault comes into play. Insurance companies often use it as a negotiation tactic, affecting how much compensation you can receive for your losses.
Comparative fault is a legal concept used in Oklahoma City car accidents to determine the responsibility and damages based on the level of fault of each party involved. In the simplest terms, it means that if you’re involved in a car accident, the compensation you can claim is reduced by your percentage of fault. So, if you were found to be 30% at fault in an accident, your compensation will be reduced by that 30%. But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
The percentage of fault is determined by the “trier of fact.” In most cases, this is the jury, but the judge will decide if it is a “bench trial.” The problem is that the “assigned fault” is not decided until trial. So, for negotiation purposes, this percentage will differ significantly between the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorneys.
- Oklahoma’s Modified Comparative Negligence Rule
- What if three or more parties are to blame for the accident?
- What Does the Jury Consider?
- Sample Jury Instruction With One Defendant
- What is the Preponderance of the Evidence?
- Proving Fault in Oklahoma City
Oklahoma’s Modified Comparative Negligence Rule
Oklahoma operates under a specific version of the called the Modified Comparative Negligence Rule.
This rule stipulates that you can recover damages in a car accident only if you’re less than 50% at fault. So, if your case is worth $100k (if you were fault-free), and you are found to be 49% at fault, your verdict would be reduced to $49k. But, if you’re found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident, you would not be entitled to any compensation. The scales of justice can tip entirely based on a single percentage point.
What if three or more parties are to blame for the accident?
The Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1978 clarified this issue in Laubach v. Morgan and Martin, holding that the Plaintiff’s percentage of fault is compared to the combined negligence of all defendants.
This case involved a car accident with three drivers – Laubach, Morgan, and Martin. Laubach sued Morgan and Martin for damages. The jury found Laubach 30% negligent, Martin 50% negligent, and Morgan 20% negligent, and awarded Laubach $4000 total damages.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court had to interpret the state’s comparative negligence statute to determine how it applies when there are multiple defendants. The court adopted the approach that a plaintiff’s negligence is compared to the combined negligence of all defendants. So, since Laubach was less than 50% negligent, he could recover damages.
The court also abolished the rule of joint and several liability in comparative negligence cases involving multiple defendants. Instead, each defendant is only severally liable for the percentage of damages in proportion to their negligence as determined by the jury. So, the court remanded to the trial court to enter judgment against Martin for 50% of the damages and Morgan for 20% of the damages, in line with the jury’s apportionment of fault. This severed the link between defendants and had them pay only their share.
What Does the Jury Consider?
Determining the percentage of fault for each party in a car accident case is generally a question for the jury, which is instructed to consider the evidence presented at trial. The jury assesses the conduct of each party and assigns a percentage of fault based on the degree to which each party’s negligence contributed to the accident. The instructions provided to the jury outline the definitions of negligence and ordinary care and direct the jury to compare the plaintiff’s negligence with that of the defendants, ensuring that the plaintiff’s recovery is barred only if their negligence is greater than the combined negligence of the defendants.
Sample Jury Instruction With One Defendant
“In this case, Defendant denies that their actions were the direct cause of the incident and any injuries sustained by Plaintiff. The Defendant argues that if you find them to be negligent, this negligence was less than the Plaintiff’s. If the Defendant’s negligence is less, then the Plaintiff should not recover damages in this lawsuit. To support this defense, Defendant must demonstrate, with a preponderance of evidence, that Plaintiff was negligent and this negligence directly caused their injury.
Your role is to assess and compare the degrees of negligence for both parties, expressed as percentages ranging from 0% to 100%.
According to the law, the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence will not prevent them from recovering damages unless it is greater, in percentage, than the Defendant’s negligence.
When reaching your verdict, specify the percentage of negligence attributed to each party on the provided verdict form, colored for clarity. Only do this if you find that either the Plaintiff or the Defendant was negligent. If you find that either party was not negligent, this should also be clearly indicated on the verdict form.”
What is the Preponderance of the Evidence?
In civil cases like car accident lawsuits, “Preponderance of the Evidence” means the person who has to prove something (like who caused the accident) only needs to show it’s “more likely true than not.” It’s not as strict as in criminal cases, where the State must prove something ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’
The Scales of Justice is a common analogy for “more likely true than not” (that defense lawyers seem to disagree with). Imagine you have a set of scales, and you place the evidence that something is true on one side. On the other side, you place the evidence that it’s not true. If the scale tips slightly towards the side where the evidence that something is true is placed, it meets the “more likely true than not” standard.
Proving Fault in Oklahoma City
But how do you go about proving who’s at fault? By building your case from the beginning.
Gather Evidence at the Scene
You need to collect as much evidence as possible at the accident scene. This includes things like:
- Photos of the accident scene and the vehicles.
- Contact details of any witnesses AND what they have to say. If you have time, have the witnesses write down their statements.
- Notes about the conditions and events leading up to the accident
- Write down anything the person who hit you states.
- Take a photo of the defendant’s insurance information.
- Make sure you wait for the police officer to investigate the accident thoroughly.
Get the Medical Treatment You Need
Too often, I see people waiting to go to the doctor because they don’t know how it will affect their car accident case. This is the wrong focus. The focus is on getting the medical care they need to recover their health fully. Worry about your case later.
Obtain a Police Report
Next, you’ll want to get your hands on a police report. This official document will contain an officer’s observations and findings about the accident, which can be very valuable in proving fault. The accident report is generally not admissible in court, but it can speed up the process of getting the insurance company to evaluate the claim. The report sometimes will also include witness contact information and their statements.
Consult with an Experienced Lawyer
Think your case is one of disputed liability? Then, contact a personal injury lawyer to get your case started. We can help you understand the comparative fault system, guide you through the process, make sure we have all the relevant evidence and advocate for the best possible outcome for your case – Getting you top dollar.