Earlier this year, Florida made a major change to its negligence laws. The change can have profound consequences for those who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions and other common accidents.
That said, you may not have heard anything about this change. It has not received a great deal of attention in the mainstream press because the legal issues involved are somewhat complicated.
In this blog post, we’ll explore this change and what it means for the injured.
The new law
The changes came in a bill known as HB 837, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in March. One of its major effects is to set a limit to comparative negligence. Now, anyone found to be more than 50% at fault for an accident will be barred from recovering compensation in a personal injury claim.
Proponents of the law say it will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits. Opponents say it will actually create more litigation.
What is comparative negligence?
Comparative negligence is a legal theory that allows an injured party to recover compensation in a personal injury claim even if they were partly at fault for their accident. However, it is most commonly used by the defense as a way of limiting the amount of compensation they must pay the plaintiff.
In a case involving comparative negligence, a court examines the evidence and determines what percentage of fault each party holds for the accident. The plaintiff’s recovery is limited in proportion to their percentage of fault.
For example, imagine a car accident in which Aaron’s car collides with Zack’s car. Aaron is badly injured and suffers $1 million in damages. He sues Zack, seeking compensation of $1 million.
The court examines the evidence and determines that Zack is largely to blame for the accident through his negligence, but that Aaron also contributed to the accident because he was speeding. The court finds Zack 75% at fault and Aaron 25% at fault.
In this scenario, Aaron can recover compensation from Zack, but his compensation must be reduced according to his fault. That is, his compensation is reduced by 25%, to $750,000.
Modified comparative negligence
Until the passage of HB 837. Florida had what is known as a “pure” comparative negligence system, under which an injured party could recover from a negligent party even if the injured party was mostly at fault for the accident. The new law changes the state to a “modified” comparative negligence system.
Under the new system, an injured plaintiff can recover compensation from a negligent defendant even if they were 50% at fault, but they are barred from recovery if they were more than 50% at fault.
Returning to the example above, this means that Aaron could recover from Zack if Aaron was up to 50% at fault, but not any more than that. If a court determined that Aaron was any more than 50% at fault, he could not recover compensation from Zack.
Note that this change in the law doesn’t apply to medical malpractice, intentional torts and some other types of lawsuits. However, it can and will surely apply to many motor vehicle accidents.
To maximize their compensation, the injured should ask experienced professionals about how comparative negligence may affect their case.