What Is Modified Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania?


Every state has its own laws governing how much compensation a person can claim in a personal injury suit. A major part of any state's laws include how it takes "comparative negligence" into account. Sometimes, a person can sue another party for their injuries even if they're partly at fault. In other cases, they can't. 

The evolution of state law has produced two types of comparative negligence: pure and modified. These laws determine the damages a person can claim in a personal injury lawsuit.

In a majority of Pennsylvania personal injury cases, proving negligence is the key to a successful claim. Negligence is the element of a personal injury lawsuit that determines if the defendant's actions were atypical for the given scenario. For example, in a car accident claim, the plaintiff must prove the defendant was negligent in the use of their vehicle. Suppose the defendant side-swiped the plaintiff while traveling 50 mph in a 30 mph zone. The plaintiff would show the judge that the defendant’s inability to follow the speed limit was a negligent action. While the court may determine that the plaintiff’s actions were negligent, comparative negligence will determine if the plaintiff is clear of fault.

Comparative Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

The idea behind comparative negligence is that both parties, the plaintiff and the defendant, may have acted carelessly in the incident that injured the plaintiff. While a court can declare that a defendant’s actions were negligent, a court can simultaneously assert that the plaintiff’s choices were also careless.

In the example mentioned above, imagine that the sideswiped plaintiff had pulled out in front of the speeding defendant. In this scenario, it is possible that the court will see the defendant’s act of speeding as less negligent than the plaintiff’s action of pulling out in front of a car. In a situation where both parties are proven to have acted irresponsibly, the court will then use comparative negligence to determine the percentage for which each party is at fault.

The result of the comparison will determine whose actions were more responsible for the action and subsequent injury. When a court applies comparative negligence, there are two primary outcomes. First, if the plaintiff is found to be at least 50% responsible for the accident that resulted in their injury, then the personal injury case is thrown out. If the defendant is found to be at least 51% responsible for an accident, then negligence is thoroughly established, and the case can move forward to resolution.

Pure Contributory Negligence & Pure Comparative Negligence

Pure contributory negligence is a rule that stipulates that if you are even one percent at fault for your accident, you are disqualified from filing a lawsuit. Personal injury cases can be difficult when pure contributory negligence is involved; the rule makes it easier for insurers and defendants to get your case dismissed. If the defendant can provide the smallest bit of evidence that you were at fault for your accident, then your case is in danger. As a result, pure contributory negligence primarily benefits insurers and defendants.

Today, five U.S. states and districts follow pure contributory negligence: 

  • Alabama
  • The District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • North Dakota
  • Virginia

Pure comparative negligence is a rule that stipulates that a defendant is only financially liable for damages equal to their percentage of fault. So, if a plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages, but the defendant was only 85 percent at fault, the defendant would only be liable for $85,000. Plaintiffs in pure comparative negligence states can still file lawsuits when they are partially at fault, but their final award is reduced by their percentage of fault. About a third of U.S. states utilize this rule.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Modified comparative negligence is used by most states to determine the compensation a plaintiff is entitled to. States that follow modified comparative negligence utilize either a 50 percent or 51 percent rule. Pennsylvania follows a 51 percent rule. The rule states that a plaintiff can only seek damages from the defendant if they are less than 51 percent at fault for the accident. The 51 percent rule makes it so that a person can only file a lawsuit if they were the least responsible for an accident.

For example, if the jury awards you $100,000 for your injuries but the jury assigns 30% of the fault for the accident to you, the amount of compensation you receive will total $70,000 ($100,000 less 30%). Therefore, even though you may believe you are partially at fault for an accident, you still may want to consult a personal injury attorney to maximize your claim.

Notably, adjustments are still made to the final payout of a lawsuit under comparative negligence. So, if a plaintiff is 25 percent liable for an accident, they will only collect 75 percent of damages awarded to them from the case.

How Do Insurance Companies Use Comparative Negligence in Motorcycle Accident Cases?

Motorcycle accident cases are slightly different from automobile accidents involving only passenger vehicles. Insurance companies like to use the misguided, unfounded, and incorrect stereotypes that some people have toward motorcyclists to blame the rider for the accident. Under comparative negligence, if the insurance company can convince a jury that the rider was speeding or driving recklessly, some of the fault for the accident will be assigned to the rider. Therefore, Pennsylvania's comparative negligence law requires that the rider's compensation be reduced by that percentage.

Some people view motorcyclists as reckless and careless when on the road. Insurance companies paint riders as taking chances by speeding, driving recklessly, and driving distracted thereby contributing to accidents. This is done to reduce the amount of compensation paid to the rider under the comparative negligence law. An experienced Pennsylvania motorcycle attorney has handled this type of issue many times and he understands how to fight negative stereotypes to win.

If you’ve suffered from injuries caused by the negligence of another person, turn to one of Pennsylvania’s most experienced law firms. We’ve helped clients win tens of millions in settlements and verdicts. Contact Handler, Henning & Rosenberg to learn your options at (888) 498-3023 for a free consultation.

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