In some personal injury cases, one person’s negligence clearly caused the injuries, and that person is 100 percent responsible. Many cases, however, are more complicated or nuanced, with both parties shouldering some of the responsibility for an accident.
West Virginia uses modified comparative negligence, meaning that if you seek remedies for your injuries, your compensation will be reduced by the percentage of responsibility you played in the accident. Say that a jury finds you were 20 percent responsible. Your award would then go down by 20 percent (say. from $100,000 to $80,000). This is a good thing for the most part.
Fairer division of responsibility
If West Virginia were a state with pure contributory negligence laws, then you would collect nothing if a jury determined you had any fault in the crash, no matter how minuscule.
Moreover, West Virginia law says that victims can recover damages only if they were less than 50 percent responsible. So, someone who is 75 percent at fault in a crash would not be able to collect 25 percent damages from you.
The issue can get trickier when fault seems to lie 51 percent with one driver and 49 percent with another. In such a situation, the driver with 49 percent fault can collect 51 percent of his or her damages. You may wonder how anyone can know for sure about fault when it comes down to such tiny percentages.
Investigating the factors contributing to the accident
Lawyers do many things when trying to determine who is at fault for what. For example, they look at initial police reports (which are not always accurate), witness statements and photographic and video evidence. They can often examine evidence such as tire skid marks to do accident reconstructions. Armed with this information, juries can make fault determinations, and sometimes, these determinations will be just a few percentage points apart.
What if, in a daze, you admitted fault at the accident scene right after it happened? You are not necessarily out of luck, but it is even more important to do everything else correctly.