When it comes to assessing fault and liability for accidents and injuries in California, there are a few concepts that people should be aware of when deciding about whether to file a civil lawsuit. California's civil tort laws hold that a person is responsible whenever they act negligently, or fail to act if they owe a duty of care to someone, but their duty to compensate the victim is limited to the amount of fault they are responsible for.
For example, a person runs through a red light and strikes a cyclist heading in the other direction, causing the cyclist multiple broken bones. The person who ran the red light will likely be held responsible for their negligent acts.
Nonetheless, this is not always the case. What if the cyclist was in the wrong lane at the time of the crash? If the cyclist's actions contributed to the collision, then the jury or the court may find that the cyclist was contributorily negligent, and this fault can be apportioned between the two parties. In this case, the jury could find the driver at 80 percent fault, and the cyclist at 20 percent fault. As a result, the monetary compensation the cyclist can collect cannot be more than 80 percent of the total amount of medical bills and other economic damages incurred.
It gets more complicated if multiple parties are involved. For example, say that two cars ran the red light and both struck the poor cyclist, causing injuries. If the jury finds that both drivers were 40 percent responsible, then the cyclist cannot collect compensation totaling more than 40 percent of the total economic damages from either party. This is called the theory of several liability, meaning that a party at fault cannot be held responsible for the harm caused by another negligent party. If the cyclist wants to collect the maximum amount of damages allowed, they will need to file a lawsuit for damages against both drivers.
Car accidents are often complicated, but this should not stop a victim from obtaining the full amount of damages they are entitled to. With the help of an experienced California personal injury attorney, proceeding against multiple negligent parties is often a practical and necessary solution.
Source: CA.gov, "Joint or Several Obligations," accessed on Nov. 30, 2014