Comparative Negligence: Why Fault Matters

After a personal injury suit is initiated, it is not uncommon for defendant(s) to allege that the injured party contributed to their own damages. Every state has the ability to decide what type of impact an injured party’s own contribution has on a case. Georgia will compare each of the parties’ contribution to the injury. Comparative negligence is the legal theory in which a defendant asserts that some degree of fault should be attributed to the injured party, reducing the liability of any defendant.

Comparative Negligence Scenario

In this article, we will use the following scenario as an example:

John is scheduled for surgery at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. John’s surgeon informs him that he cannot eat or drink any fluids after midnight, in preparation for his surgery. John wakes up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning extremely hungry. He decides to eat just enough to get through the night. John arrived at the hospital and a team of doctors prepare for surgery. John is given anesthesia and falls asleep as planned. About 20 minutes into the surgery, John’s stomach contents begin regurgitating into his lungs. Doctor Mich hooks the patient up to an aspirator, which easily drains contents out of a patient’s lungs. However, Doctor Mich fails to hook the aspirator up using the hospital’s guidelines and procedures, causing a technical failure. Doctor Comp noticed that the aspirator was not working, but continued the surgery for an additional 45 seconds. The lapse in time caused severe complications. Although John survived, he had to undergo a number of additional surgeries which led to prolonged hospital stays, loss of income, and caused John a great deal of emotional distress.

Comparative Negligence Affects Personal Injury Claims

John files suit against the hospital. The hospital asserts comparative negligence, arguing John contributed to his harm by eating when he was instructed to refrain from doing so.

Once a defendant asserts comparative negligence in a personal injury matter, the jury will need to initially determine whether the injured party is responsible for the injury or damages claimed. If a jury finds that the injured party has contributed to their damages, the jury must determine the percentage of fault.

The percentage of fault attributable to an injured party has a direct impact on the ability to obtain monetary relief. Once a percentage of fault is assigned to the injured party, the judge will reduce the amount of damages that would have otherwise been awarded to that party. For instance, if the jury found John 25 percent responsible for his injuries and awarded him $100,000 in damages, John would only be entitled to $75,000.

In some instances, a party’s negligence can serve as a total bar to recovery. Georgia is a modified comparative negligence state. In modified comparative negligence states, the law prohibits any recovery if a jury determines that the injured party is 50 percent or more responsible for the injury or damages claimed.

Multiple wrongdoers trigger special rules. After a jury reduces an award due to the injured party’s own negligence, the jury must apportion any award of damages among the persons who are liable according to the percentage of fault of each person. The ultimate effect is that each person will only be responsible for their portion of the damages.

For example, we will assume the jury in our case scenario decided that John was 40 percent responsible for his injuries. The jury also decided Doctor Mich was 40 percent responsible because he failed to follow the proper protocol and Doctor Comp was 20 percent responsible for continuing surgery while knowing the aspirator failed. The jury awards $100,000 in damages. In this instance, John is only entitled to receive $40,000 from Doctor Mich and $20,000 from Doctor Comp.

Comparative Negligence is Complicated- Let Us Help You

Any allegations of comparative negligence must be addressed immediately, as any finding of fault will have a direct impact on the case. If you or someone you know may have contributed to their harm in any way, you need an experienced attorney. The attorneys at 1Georgia Injury Lawyers, PLLC have the experience necessary to evaluate your case and determine the next course of action. Contact us today for an initial consultation.