What is negligence?
Negligence is any careless behavior that causes, or contributes to, an accident. For most types of accidents, a person must be negligent in order to be held legally responsible for another person’s injuries.
A person is considered negligent if he or she had a duty to act carefully and failed to do so. (Generally, we all have an obligation to act with ordinary and reasonable care in any given situation — that is, in a manner that will not foreseeably injure those around us.) For example, a person would be negligent if she drove at night wearing sunglasses, because any reasonable driver would know that doing so would increase the chances of causing a traffic accident.
If a person behaves negligently and that behavior causes you harm, you can most likely recover compensation for your injuries.
Can I get compensation for my injuries if an accident might have been partly my fault?
Even if you might have partly caused an accident yourself, you can still receive compensation from anyone else who was careless and partly caused the accident. The amount of another person’s responsibility is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own. For example, if you were 25% at fault and the other person was 75% at fault, the other person must pay — through the insurance company — 75% of the fair compensation for your injuries. This rule is called “comparative negligence.”
A few states bar you from compensation if your own carelessness substantially contributed to the accident. (This is called “contributory negligence.”) But in practice, the question of whether your carelessness actually contributed to the accident is a point to negotiate with the insurance adjuster.
There is no formula for assigning a percentage to your carelessness — or that of the other person. During claim negotiations, you will come up with one number; the adjuster may come up with another and explain why you bear greater responsibility for the accident. The different percentages at which you each arrive then go into the negotiating hopper with all the other factors that determine how much your claim is worth.
Can I get compensation for my accident injuries if my physical limitations made the accident more likely or made my injuries worse?
What if you have a bad knee, which makes one leg a bit unsteady? Or if your eyesight, even with glasses, is not very strong? If you fall on a broken stair, are you still entitled to compensation even though someone with stronger legs or better eyesight might not have fallen?
Absolutely. All people, regardless of physical ability, have a legal right to make their way through the world without unnecessary danger. Owners and occupants of property must not put in unnecessary danger any person who might reasonably be expected to be on the property. The same goes for drivers and everyone else — no one may create unnecessary danger for anyone whose path they might cross.