Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

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is a modified comparative negligence state, meaning that if you were less than 51% at fault for an
, you can recover damages from that accident according to your percentage of fault.
If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you probably know that the finger-pointing usually starts before first responders have even arrived at the scene. Every state has its own laws that determine how your contribution to an accident affects the damages you can collect. That’s why it’s so important to understand the law in the state where you’re driving.
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What is comparative negligence?

Comparative negligence is a legal term that means if someone is in an accident, they can collect damages proportionate to their fault in the accident. It sounds complicated, but here’s how it works:
If you get into an accident with someone else and you’re found to be 20% at fault, you’re only going to be held responsible for 20% of those damages. The other driver will then be responsible for the other 80%, assuming they’re assigned the remainder of the fault for the crash.
Comparative negligence can be applied to both personal injury lawsuits and third-party insurance claims. In a personal injury suit, the court (either a judge or jury) will assign the responsibility for the accident. 
If you’re filing a third-party insurance claim, the insurance company will pay a percentage of the damages based on comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

Each state follows one of three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, partial or modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Here’s what these terms mean:
  • Pure comparative negligence: Anyone can collect damages based on their percentage of fault. If the other driver is 1% responsible, you can collect 1% of your damages.
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence: An injured party can collect damages according to their percentage of fault, as long as it is less than 50 or 51% (depending on the state). 
  • Contributory negligence: An injured party will not collect damages if they share any percentage of the fault for an accident. 
Only 12 states recognize pure comparative negligence, and only 5 states recognize pure contributory negligence. 

What is Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law? 

Pennsylvania is in the majority here—it’s a modified comparative negligence state. According to Pennsylvania state law
Section 7102
, you can collect damages (based on your percentage of fault) as long as you are not found to be more negligent than the other party
That means if you’re found to be 25% at fault in an accident, you’ll have to pay 25% of the other driver’s damages. But since they were 75% at fault, they (or their insurance) will have to cover as much as 75% of any damage to your vehicle or injuries you sustained.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

If there are more than two defendants in your accident case, they will have to split the damages based on their proportion of fault. 
So if one person is 90% responsible and the other person is 10% responsible, the damages will be split between them 90-10. To collect, you’ll need to file a claim with either or both of the other parties’ insurance companies. 

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

The fault in a comparative negligence case is decided by the insurance companies. They’ll base their decision on police reports from the scene as well as any evidence that’s submitted with the claims. 
To make sure the fault is assigned accurately, document the following if you’re in an accident:
  • Description of the cars involved, including make, model, and license plate numbers
  • Time and date of the accident
  • Weather conditions at the time of the accident
  • Witness statements
  • Photographs of any damage
You should also call the police and make sure a police report is filed. 

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

Because Pennsylvania is a modified comparative negligence state, you can file a claim with another driver’s insurance company as long as they were found to have the majority of fault. You can then claim damages based on that amount of fault.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re driving down I-376 near Pittsburgh and another car swerves into your lane. You don’t see them in time because you were adjusting your radio, and they side-swipe you.
When the insurance companies review the evidence, they find that the other driver swerved because they were texting and driving. The other driver was violating Pennsylvania’s texting and driving law, so they’re assigned 90% of the fault. You get 10% of the fault because you were also distracted. Even though you’re partially to blame, you can still file a claim with the other party’s insurance. 
According to Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law, you can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance for 90% of your total damages. If the cost to repair your car is $1,000, the other driver’s insurance would cover up to $900, and you’d be responsible for the remaining $100. The other driver can also collect 10% of their damages from your insurance company.

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Regardless of who’s at fault after an accident, it’s essential to have the right level of
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Yes, although the exact amount your premium will go up can vary pretty widely. Your insurance company will take into account things like demographics, driving history, percentage of fault, and the circumstances. You can expect your insurance to go up by at least 20% if you were found at fault in an accident.
By Amy Bobinger
Licensed Insurance Agent — Expert Insurance Editor
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear.
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