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Comparative Negligence Laws in Pennsylvania

Posted on 04/26/23

Whenever someone sustains an injury in an incident and believes that someone else was at fault, they may pursue a compensation claim. However, the legal system will always assess whether the injured party was at least partially to blame for the accident.

Based on this factor, each state has a specific set of laws that dictate how much compensation somebody can claim in a personal injury lawsuit. Some states may disqualify a claimant if they have any fault whatsoever, while others have a more complex approach. What is the situation in Pennsylvania? If you’ve been injured and want to pursue a case, how will the laws related to comparative negligence in Pennsylvania affect you?

Understanding Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

What does the legal system mean by “negligence“?

In most personal injury lawsuits, the first hurdle is to prove that another person was negligent and failed to act with a duty of care in that situation. The plaintiff will also need to go into detail to show exactly how the defendant breached their duty of care, which resulted in the injury. If the plaintiff can establish that there was a breach, then they will also need to prove that they suffered real injuries as a consequence.

So, to establish a breach of care, the plaintiff will need to show that the defendant either took certain actions or did not take actions and thereby failed to meet the expected level of reasonable care. Of course, the keyword here is “reasonable,” and the facts will differ case-by-case.

What are some examples of a duty of care?

Imagine a situation where a shopper slips and falls on a wet floor in a supermarket. In this case, the business owner had a legal obligation to maintain the premises in a certain way and to keep the floor clear of such a hazard. If they did not act within a reasonable amount of time (once they’d discovered the issue), they did not exercise a reasonable duty of care and could be liable to pay damages to the shopper.

Still, the legal system must determine if the plaintiff contributed to the incident in any way, and four basic systems allocate fault in these situations.

Pure Contributory Negligence

The pure contributory negligence rule says that a plaintiff cannot receive any damages even if they were only 1% at fault. This is the harshest form of judgment and the law in only four states and the District of Columbia. However, the law has been further modified in D.C. to set a 51% bar in the case of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Pure Comparative Negligence

In the states that follow the pure comparative negligence rule, a plaintiff can claim damages for the 1% that they are not at fault, even if they are 99% at fault. This limits the amount the plaintiff can collect to the assigned fault as decided by the court. Around a third of U.S. states, including Florida, New York, and California, follow this rule.

Modified Comparative Fault

Most states follow the modified comparative fault rule. In this case, a plaintiff can receive proportional damages unless they are found to be more than half responsible for the incident. These rulings are further broken down into two separate types — the 50% rule and the 51% rule. Certain states that follow the 50% rule will only award the plaintiff proportional damages if they are found to be up to 49% or 50% at fault. The other states will determine that the plaintiff will not receive any compensation if they are found to be 50% or 51% responsible for their injuries.

Slight/Gross Negligence Comparative Fault

One state (South Dakota) uses a different approach — the slight/gross negligence comparative fault rule. Here, the plaintiff cannot recover damages unless their input could be classed as “slight,” and the defendant’s negligence could be termed “gross.” Nevertheless, it’s often difficult to determine exactly what is meant by “slight” and what is meant by “gross.”

Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Laws

Like most states in the union, Pennsylvania follows the modified comparative negligence rule, the 51% rule.

Under the laws relating to comparative negligence in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff can still bear a certain amount of fault for an incident and be able to recover damages, but the legal system will assign a percentage of negligence to each party. So, a plaintiff can recover damages if they are less than 51% at fault. If they are found to carry more than 50% of the fault, they cannot seek compensation.

To further clarify, if a claimant was found to be 20% responsible for the incident, they could only claim 80% of any settlement award. So, the higher the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, the less money they will receive.

This is laid down in Pennsylvania Gen Assembly Statute 42 Pa C.S.A. § 7102.

What is The Difference Between Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence?

Some people are confused about the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence. If they contributed to the negligence, the plaintiff could not collect damages if they are found to be partially at fault for any injuries received in an incident. However, this is not the case when it comes to the comparative negligence rule.

In other words, the contributory negligence rule takes an “all or nothing” approach to the situation. As a result, many opposing counsels will use this rule to try and prove that a plaintiff had some prior knowledge of the risks or dangers of the situation they were in.

The comparative negligence rule understands that some plaintiffs may be partially negligent but allows them to collect damages in any case. Still, their degree of negligence may affect their compensation reward.

How is Liability Determined, and How Does The 51% Rule Work?

Imagine being in a car accident where another driver ran through a red light and hit the back of your car. You may have sustained whiplash injuries and want to pursue damages. First, however, the defendant’s counsel will want to examine your driving closely to see if you could have contributed (in some way) to the incident.

For example, were you texting on your phone and failed to notice that the light had turned green? Perhaps a bystander noticed your behavior and can come forward as a witness for the defense. Were you speeding and stopped suddenly at the last moment, giving the car behind you a little alternative? Perhaps the defendant’s vehicle had a camera attached, which could provide evidence in that case.

Alternatively, a plaintiff could have been speeding through an intersection when the defendant made an unprotected left turn and hit the plaintiff’s vehicle. In the ensuing accident, the plaintiff sustained injuries. However, the jury may determine that the plaintiff was contributory as they had been speeding, so the jury may decide that they were, perhaps, 35% at fault.

This means that they can only receive 65% of the available compensation. So, if the damages amounted to $100,000, the plaintiff (for speeding through the intersection) would only get $65,000 for their injuries.

The courts or a jury will look at this subjectively and assess the evidence in front of them. Each case is different, and it is up to the counsel on both sides to argue whether comparative negligence amounted to 51% of the fault or not. Every case is unique and depends on the circumstances.

What is the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act?

The Pennsylvania State Share Act may also come into play. This legislation came into power in 2011 and rules that the defendant can only be liable for their share of the fault. So, if there’s more than one defendant in a case, a defendant can only be found responsible for an exact share of the fault. Otherwise, they may be partly responsible for the entire settlement regardless of their fault percentage.

For example, in a multi-car accident, the injured party files a suit against more than one other driver. One driver may be found to be 52% at fault, while the other bears only 48% of the fault. So, the driver who was at 48% fault will only pay 48% of the damages to the injured party, while the other driver will pay 52%. However, if one defendant is found to be 60% or more at fault for the incident, they will be responsible for the entire amount of damages under the Fair Share Act.

Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys

As you can see, much will depend on the specifics of the case. If you are a plaintiff in this situation, much will also depend on the arguments put forward by your attorney. This is why you need somebody like Tyler Wilk on your side. Tyler believes that every client deserves the right to the highest quality, aggressive and caring representation. He has a passion and a keen understanding of the need for strong legal advocacy and will certainly go to bat for you in this situation.

Tyler founded Wilk Law to represent the rights of those who are the most vulnerable and advises you to get in touch today for further assistance.

Some of the locations our legal team also serves includes: West Chester, Coatesville, Downingtown, Philadelphia, Berwyn, Devon, Exton, Frazer, Phoenixville, Pottstown, and more.