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What Can I do if I am Partly to Blame for the Accident?

This is a question that comes up quite often. It is very common for two people to cause an accident, not just one. In that context, different states handle liability claims in different ways. As an example, I practiced in North Carolina for years. In North Carolina the rule of the land is contributory negligence. Under contributory negligence if you want to bring a claim against another driver, you cannot have been negligent in any causative way. In other words, if you contributed to the accident at all- even 1%- you can recover nothing.

Alaska’s rule is much more generous and understanding of the fact that someone who is injured through the carelessness of another should not have their claim barred by the fact that they had done some minor negligent act. Alaska’s rule is comparative negligence. In a comparative negligence system, you can recover for your own damages but only to the extent that those damages conform to the fault of the other party. If that definition is a little bit of a difficult to get your head around, here is an example:

Example: If you have an accident and you have $10,000 in damages, and the finder of fact or the jury decides that you were 25% at fault, you would be awarded $7,500 or 75% of your loss since the defendant, according to the finding of the jury, contributed 75% to the accident in this example.

Alaska is also a pure comparative fault state. This can be important in situations where someone is catastrophically injured but primarily at fault for the accident. In most comparative states the rule is modified comparative negligence. Under that structure an injured person cannot collect unless the other driver was more than 50% at fault. If someone is badly injured and a jury finds him or her to be 60% at fault for the accident, then they can recover nothing in a modified comparative state. Here in Alaska, that same person could recover 40% of their damages. Oftentimes that is more than enough to cover their medical bills in a catastrophic loss case.

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