Florida follows the rule of comparative fault, which means that if the negligence of two or more people caused or contributed to an accident or injury, the law will assess the fault and liability proportionally. The amount of a person’s negligence will reduce the amount of that person’s money damages.
Let’s say that the plaintiff was 10% at fault in a car crash and sustained $100,000 in damages. The rule of comparative negligence will reduce the plaintiff’s damages by $10,000 to account for his 10% of the fault. The defendant will be liable for $90,000 in compensation to the plaintiff.
Comparative negligence applies to all parties, not just the plaintiff. If the defendant also got hurt in the collision, she can recover some of her losses from the plaintiff. The law of comparative negligence will reduce her damages by the percentage of her negligence, which was 90 percent, so she will only get 10 percent of her losses from the plaintiff.
The court will use a two-step process to determine the amount of compensation:
- Determine how much fault to attribute to each party
- Calculate the total damages for all parties, including economic damages (like medical expenses and lost wages) and non-economic damages (like disfigurement or pain and suffering)
When a Non-Party Was Partly at Fault
Sometimes, someone who is not a party to the personal injury lawsuit bears some responsibility for causing the injury. It would not be fair for the defendant to have to pay money damages that exceeded her proportion of the negligence. Florida law allows a defendant in this situation to identify the non-party, if known, and try to convince the court to allocate some of the liability to that nonparty.
These cases tend to be complicated, but an experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to meet the statutory requirements for this circumstance. Let’s say that a three-car accident involved an innocent driver, a drunk driver, and a hit-and-run driver. If law enforcement cannot find the hit-and-run driver, the court can go forward to determine how much the drunk driver has to pay for the innocent driver’s injuries.
Comparative versus Contributory Negligence
The Florida Statutes use the term contributory negligence, which causes some confusion because Florida does not follow the traditional legal rule of contributory negligence. Under traditional contributory negligence, if a person was at all to blame for an accident, even one percent at fault, the law would bar that person from getting any money damages from the other people at fault in the accident.
Classic contributory negligence caused a harsh result for the victims. As a result, many states, like Florida, have replaced the contributory negligence approach with the legal theory of comparative negligence. Under comparative negligence, you can recover compensation reduced by the percentage of your negligence. So, although the Florida statutes use the term contributory negligence, we actually follow the modern rule of comparative negligence.
Call the Montero Law Center today at (954) 767-6500 for a free, no-obligation consultation.