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Albert Buzzetti & Associates, L.L.C.

Can I sue if I was partly at fault for the accident?

You’re driving down the road late at night, feeling relaxed with the radio blaring one of your favorite songs. Without you even realizing it, the speedometer slowly inches upward. The light up ahead is green, so you hardly give it a thought as you zip through the intersection, going 15 miles per hour faster than the posted limit.

The next instant, your drive home is shattered by a horrific impact, and your car is whirled around. It comes to rest on the shoulder, facing the wrong way. Only later do you discover that the driver who plowed into the side of your car was under the influence of alcohol.

So what now? You and the other driver were both breaking the law – you by speeding and he by driving drunk. How will this affect a personal injury claim? Can you still sue for damages?

It comes down to the degree of fault

New Jersey is one of many states that adheres to a modified theory of contributory negligence. What this means is that you are allowed to seek compensation for your injuries and damages, but only if you are deemed to be less at fault than the other driver. If your share of the blame is 50 percent or more, you can’t recover compensation from the other party. However, if you are less than 50 percent at fault, you can.

How does it affect the amount of money you receive?

The percentage of negligence determines the percentage of damages for which you can receive compensation. Here’s an example:

  • Your hospital bills, car repairs and other damages are worth $100,000.
  • You are found to be 20 percent at fault for the accident, and the other driver is found to be 80 at fault.
  • The amount you can potentially recover is 80 percent of $100,000, which equals $80,000.

Who decides fault?

Generally, a claims adjuster for the insurance company will determine who was responsible for the accident, and to what degree. The claims adjuster may look at the police report, interview the drivers and witnesses, and investigate the scene of the crash to come to a determination.

If you have any questions about your rights after an accident – or if you believe you’re being treated unfairly by the insurance company – it’s worthwhile speaking to a personal injury attorney who can look into the specific details of your unique situation.

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