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Comparative Negligence: Assigning Fault in Wisconsin Traffic Accidents

Posted on in Car Accidents

Wisonsin personal injury attorney, Wisonsin car crash lawyer, Milwaukee car crash attorneyPersonal injury and traffic accident trials are about assigning fault. The court determines who was at fault in the accident, and then it awards damages to the injured parties. Sometimes this fault determination is simple and straightforward. If a drunk driver runs a red light and crashes into the side of a car that was following the traffic laws, the accident was the drunk driver's fault. However, not every accident is so clear. There are some cases where neither side was driving as carefully as they should have been. In the past, courts would have simply said that no one could recover since any level of carelessness made that accident the fault of both parties. That is no longer true. Now courts invoke the legal doctrine of comparative negligence to determine how to assign fault.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a statutory legal doctrine created by the Wisconsin legislature that instructs judges and juries about how to handle accidents where both sides were being somewhat careless. The idea behind the doctrine is that juries are supposed to determine what portion of the accident each party was responsible for, which is usually expressed in percentages. For instance, one party might be 25 percent responsible for the accident and another party might be 75 percent responsible for the accident. People are then allowed to recover from anyone who was more at fault for the accident than they were.

However, there is an important limitation in these cases. People who were partially responsible for their accident are not allowed to recover for the full amount of their injuries. Instead, the jury determines how much harm they suffered overall, and then it reduces the payout by the amount of fault that the victim bore for the accident.

An Example

The comparative negligence doctrine can be fairly abstract, so an example is often helpful for people to understand it. Suppose a drunk driver is speeding towards a stop sign, as another car is approaching. The other car slows down, but fails to come to a complete stop. As it rolls through the intersection, the drunk driver ignores the stop sign and hits it in the side, inflicting $10,000 in damage. Had the other car obeyed the stop sign, it would have missed the drunk driver, but the drunk driver was clearly more at fault. The jury would then decide exactly how much fault each party bore, say 90 percent for the drunk driver and 10 percent for the other car. The jury would award the other car's driver damages, but they would only be eligible for $9,000 rather than the full $10,000 because of the 10 percent of fault that they bore for the accident.

Wisconsin courts understand that no one is a perfect driver, but that this fact should not necessarily bar recovery. If you were recently involved in a traffic accident, contact an experienced Milwaukee personal injury lawyer today.

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