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Can I Still Get Compensation If I Was Negligent in Causing the Car Accident?


After a car accident, the most contentious issue is who was responsible or at fault for the accident. This question is important because it affects who will pay for the damages and injuries caused by the accident. For instance, if an individual is considered to be “at fault” for the accident, that individual—or, more appropriately, their insurance company—would be responsible for paying all damages. The complicated question is allocating responsibility where there is more than one party at fault.

Trying to determine who was at fault often turns on who was negligent in causing the accident. Negligence requires that the claimant prove four elements to the judge or jury: (1) duty of care; (2) breach of duty of care; (3) causation; and (4) damages or injury. The question of negligence varies from state to state and can be further complicated by the possibility that more than one party was at fault. States have very complex systems in place for determining party negligence. These systems help determine who was at fault and the extent of the monetary obligations that the negligent party or parties and their insurance providers must pay.

The two main systems used by states for determining how to allocate monetary responsibility for the car accident are contributory negligence and comparative negligence. Both assume that more than one party was at fault and, therefore, that both parties were negligent to some degree. However, whether you are subject to a comparative or contributory negligence state can have a significant outcome on your case and your monetary obligations.

Contributory Negligence

States that still follow contributory negligence provide that if the individual contributed at all to the car accident, then he or she cannot place the blame on the other person and cannot recover. In other words, even if the individual is found to be only 1% at fault, he or she cannot recover at all. This rule has been regarded as very outdated, harsh, and unfair and, as a result, few states still adhere to the contributory negligence rule.

Comparative Negligence

Most states follow some form of comparative negligence regime. These states provide that the amount of liability for each party’s negligence in causing the car accident should be based on the percentage of fault attributable to each party. Either the judge or the jury determines the amount of fault attributable to each party.

There are two forms of comparative negligence: (1) pure comparative negligence and (2) modified comparative negligence. Under a pure comparative negligence system, the percentage that the claimant is determined to be at fault reduces the award to that claimant by that amount. Under a modified comparative negligence system, the claimant is no longer able to recover anything once their percentage of fault becomes the primary cause of the car accident—usually once their fault reaches 50%. Therefore, in states that follow this modified comparative negligence system, the claimant can recover damages from the other parties at fault as long as the claimant’s percentage of fault was less than 50%.

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