Comparative Negligence in California

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California is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning that you can recover damages from a car accident according to your percentage of fault unless you were found to be 100% at fault for the accident. 
When you’re in a car accident, time may seem to slow down—but as soon as the dust settles, the process of assigning blame begins. Your state’s comparative negligence laws will determine how much you can claim in damages after an accident, so it’s important to know the law in any state where you’re driving. 
Ready to learn everything you need to know about comparative negligence in California? Car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry has the answers. 

What is comparative negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal term that allows plaintiffs to collect damages proportionate to their amount of fault. 
For example, if you’re in an accident with another driver and you’re found to be 10% at fault, you’ll only be responsible for paying for 10% of the damages. The other driver, however, will be responsible for 90% of damages based on their level of fault. 
Comparative negligence applies to personal injury lawsuits as well as to third-party insurance claims (i.e., a claim you file with another driver’s insurance). In personal injury suits, a judge or jury assigns responsibility. In the case of insurance claims, insurance companies use comparative negligence to determine the percentage of damages they’ll pay following an accident.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

There are three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, partial or modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Each state’s law follows one of these principles. 
  • Pure comparative negligence: The injured party may collect damages according to their percentage of fault. 
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence: The injured party may collect damages according to their percentage of fault unless it is higher than 50 or 51% (depending on the state). 
  • Contributory negligence: The injured party may not collect damages if they share any percentage of fault. 
Only 12 states recognize pure comparative negligence, and only 5 states recognize pure contributory negligence. 
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What is California’s comparative negligence law? 

California is one of just 12 pure comparative negligence states in the country. Under California law, you are entitled to damages based on your percentage of fault even if you are 99% at fault for an accident
If you are 15% at fault in an accident, you’ll be responsible for 15% of the other driver’s damages. However, since they were 85% at fault, their insurance will have to cover up to 85% of any damage to you and your vehicle. 

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

If there are more than two individuals at fault in an accident, the fault will be split between them. You can file a claim with either or both insurance companies, and you’ll be awarded damages based on the fault each driver was assigned. 

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

Insurance companies assign fault in a car accident based on evidence submitted along with claims as well as police reports
When you’re at the scene of an accident, be sure to document any evidence, including the make and models of the cars involved, the time of day, and the weather conditions at the time of the accident. Talk to witnesses, take photographs of the damage, and call the police if necessary. All of this evidence can help the insurance company correct assign blame. 

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

Because California is a pure comparative negligence state, you can file a claim with another driver’s insurance company even if you were partially at fault in an accident. You’ll be able to claim a percentage of the damages based on the amount of the other driver’s fault. 
Let’s take an example. Suppose you’re driving in California and another car runs a red light at the intersection in front of you. You see the car, but can’t stop in time because you’re driving 15 miles above the speed limit, and you crash into the other car at the intersection. 
You can still file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company to cover your damages. When they review the case, they find that the other driver ran the red light because they were texting. Because the other driver was distracted, the insurance company awards 60% of the blame to them and 40% to you since you were unable to stop in time because you were speeding. 
Under California’s comparative negligence law, you can collect 60% of your damages from the other driver’s insurance. Let’s say the cost to repair your car is $2,000. The other driver’s insurance will cover up to $1,200, but you’ll be responsible for the rest. And because you were 40% responsible, the other driver can file a claim with your insurance company for 40% of their damages.

How to find affordable car insurance

Don’t just rely on California’s generous comparative negligence law to cover you in the event of an accident. Arm yourself in advance by using the Jerry app to find serious savings on car insurance.
As a licensed insurance broker, Jerry will search for competitive quotes from 50+ top insurance companies and find you the lowest available rate on the coverage you need. Once you’ve chosen your quote, Jerry will handle all the paperwork to switch you over and even cancel your old policy so that you’re not paying double. 
It all happens in the app, and you could be set up with savings in just a few minutes! Jerry users save an average of $879 a year on car insurance. 
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Yes. Every company calculates the increase to your premium differently based on demographics, driving history, amount of fault, and other factors, but you can expect an increase of at least 20% if you were found at fault.

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