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Contributory Negligence and Its Role in Personal Injury Cases

Posted on in Personal Injury

Wisconsin accident attorney, accident liability, Wisconsin injury lawyerIn any personal injury case, fault is one of the most critical elements that you have to prove. The person at fault, the one whose negligence caused the accident, is the person typically responsible to pay for the damage caused by the accident. In some cases, it is very clear who caused the accident. But in many cases, it might be unclear who is at fault. Under the laws of Wisconsin, if it is unclear who caused the accident, rules of contributory negligence and comparative fault will come into play.

Historically, contributory negligence meant that, if you played even the slightest role in the accident, and suffered an injury, you were not able to recover for your damages. However, Wisconsin adopted the modified comparative fault rule, which means that you can recover for your injuries in an accident to which you contributed, so long as your fault was less than 51 percent.

Comparative Fault Cases

In these types of cases, the jury determines the proportion or percentage of responsibility for each plaintiff, defendant and any other responsible parties. After the jury hears all of the evidence, they will then assign a percentage of responsibility to all persons involved. If you are found to be less than 51 percent at fault, whatever recovery you are entitled to will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you. For example, should the jury find you 10 percent at fault for the accident, and the defendant 90 percent at fault, you will recover 90 percent of your damages. If your damages were $100,000, you would be entitled to recover $90,000.

Joint and Several Liability

If two or more defendants are found to be at fault for your injuries, joint and several liability comes into play. This rule makes each defendant liable for the entire amount of your damages, regardless of their percentage of responsibility. This means that you could sue one defendant for the total amount of your damages and that defendant can seek contribution from the other defendant, based on their percentage of fault.

Consider an example using the fact pattern above and adding another defendant. Two defendants are responsible for 90 percent of the accident that caused your injury. They are each 45 percent responsible. If you sue Defendant A for $90,000, Defendant A will seek a contribution from Defendant B for $45,000, because Defendant B was 45 percent responsible as well.

If one defendant is responsible for one percent of the accident, that defendant is still ultimately responsible for the entire 90 percent of damages caused to you collectively with the other defendant. However, it is important to remember that you cannot seek $90,000 from each defendant. You are only entitled to recover your total amount of damages from one or both defendants, based on their amount of fault. The law bars double recovery.

Consult an Attorney

If you or a loved one suffered injuries as a result of an automobile or slip and fall accident, you should contact an experienced Milwaukee personal injury attorney who will be able to determine who the responsible parties are and hold them accountable for your injuries.

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