Hypothetically, assume a person is driving down the road, approaching an intersection with a green light. As that person approaches the intersection, a person driving the opposite direction on the same road makes a left hand turn in front of the other driver, and the vehicles collide.
The question in the ensuing personal injury case is, who is at fault for the happening of the collision and what percentage of the fault lies with each at-fault party?
The legal term for these issues is called comparative negligence, an issue that arises in many personal injury cases.
What is Negligence?
The law regarding negligence prescribes that people must conduct themselves in a way that meets certain standards of conduct. If these standards are violated, then the law requires that any injured parties be compensated by the one that caused the injury (the at-fault party).
The New Jersey Civil Jury Instructions, which are read to a jury before they deliberate and explain the law to the jurors, state, “[n]egligence may be defined as a failure to exercise, in the given circumstances, that degree of care for the safety of others, which a person of ordinary prudence would exercise under similar circumstances. It may be the doing of an act which the ordinary prudent person would not have done, or the failure to do that which the ordinary prudent person would have done, under the circumstances then existing.” New Jersey Civil Jury Instruction 5.10A.
The Elements of A Negligence Case
It is not enough to prove that a person was negligent to be successful in a negligence case. In order to be successful in a negligence case a plaintiff (the injured individual) must prove the following:
- A duty of care was owed by the defendant to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff
- The defendant’s breach of the duty of care owed to the plaintiff was a proximate cause of the accident or incident that caused injury to the plaintiff
- A causal connection between the actions of the defendant and the injuries to the plaintiff, which is typically proven through a medical expert and sometimes a biomechanical engineer
- Damages resulted from the accident, which can be economic damage or non-economic damages (pain, suffering, disability, impairment, loss of enjoyment of life)
New Jersey and Comparative Negligence
In New Jersey, the NJ Comparative Negligence Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1, and N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2) allows the jury in a personal injury case to apportion fault for a single injury to multiple parties and then to assign fault, as a percentage, to each party involved. New Jersey uses a form of comparative negligence, called modified comparative negligence, that only allows a plaintiff to recover damages if their percentage of fault falls below 50%. For example, if they found the plaintiff 45% at fault for their injury and the total damages equaled $100,000, the plaintiff would be entitled to recover $55,000 ($100,000 – $45,000) in damages from the defendant. If the plaintiff was found to be 55% at fault, then the plaintiff is not permitted to recovery any monetary damages under the general negligence laws in New Jersey.
There is also another related legal concept to Comparative Negligence, Joint and Several Liability, which holds that if two or more defendants are found to be 100% responsible for the happening of the accident, and one defendant is found to be 60% or more at fault for an injury, the plaintiff can collect the entire judgment against the one defendant that was found to be 60% or more at fault. (N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.3)
Allow Cerussi and Gunn to Help with Your Negligence Case
At Cerussi & Gunn, we are committed to ensuring that our clients receive the best possible representation and strategic, personalized resolutions to the issues that arise out of negligence cases. The lawyers at Cerussi & Gunn, P.C. pursue compensation for our clients and we will fight to ensure that your rights as a victim are fully protected.