Negligence is the primary legal theory behind most personal injury cases involving motor vehicle accidents. To explain it simply, every driver owes a duty of care to others to minimize the risk of an accident that might injure them. If they breach this duty, by driving carelessly, they have been negligent. If their negligence causes an accident that injures someone else, the injured party can hold them liable for their damages.

Every case brings its own complications, but in some cases negligence is relatively straightforward. For instance, if a Ford is stopped at a stop sign when a Chevy crashes into its rear, the Chevy driver almost certainly acted negligently. If the Ford driver was injured and suffered damages, they may hold the Chevy driver liable.

In other cases, multiple parties acted negligently and the legal picture becomes much murkier.

Comparative fault in Louisiana

Louisiana deals with these more complicated cases by using a legal theory known as comparative fault. If more than one party was at fault for the accident, the court determines what degree of fault each party holds for the accident. An injured party can hold another negligent party liable for their damages, but their recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of fault.

For example, imagine Lois is driving south when she reaches to get a tissue from her car’s backseat. In so doing, she loses control of the vehicle and veers into the northbound lane. Meanwhile, Betty is driving north on the same road, but is looking at her smartphone instead of at the road ahead of her. The two cars collide and Betty is badly injured. She files suit against Lois, seeking compensation for $100,000 in medical bills, lost wages and other damages.

The court examines the evidence and determines that Lois was mostly at fault for the accident because she veered into the oncoming lane. Because she was looking at her phone, Betty also bears some fault. The court decides that Lois was 70% at fault and Betty was 30% at fault.

Because Betty was 30% at fault, her recovery is reduced by 30%. Instead of $100,000, she can recover only $70,000.