If you are old enough to drive a car, then you have lived long enough to likely understand that we do not live in a black-and-white world restricted to either-or or yes-no possibilities. There are many middle-ground possibilities to consider in life, and this grayscale spectrum exists when it comes to determining liability in a multi-car accident.
If you think of negligence law as a spectrum, extreme possibilities exist at the ends and compromise outcomes are what you see toward the middle. The extreme possibility, which is now the law in a minority of states, is referred to as “contributory negligence” and was the law in Ohio until 1980. Under a contributory negligence legal doctrine, if you were involved in an accident with another driver and sued for personal injury or damage to property, then all the other driver would have to do is show that your negligence contributed as little as one percent to the accident and you would be barred from any recovery at all.
Contributory negligence can, and has, led to unjust outcomes in which drivers who were largely responsible for causing harm to others were able to escape accountability simply by proving that the other driver’s behavior behind the wheel wasn’t perfect. The solution to this extreme doctrine is known as “comparative fault.”
Comparative fault systems are variable. Some states use a system that allows relative negligence liability between the parties to be established with exactitude: a jury can decide that the defendant is 85 percent at fault and the plaintiff 15 percent, and any award that the plaintiff receives is reduced by that 15 percent. Pure comparative negligence can, at least in theory, allow a plaintiff who was primarily responsible for the accident to sue and still recover at least something from a defendant who was less at fault.
Ohio’s system of comparative fault uses a 50 percent threshold for negligence. That is, if you sue someone else and that person is at least 51 percent at fault, then you can recover damages; but if that ratio is reversed, then the state law precludes you from any recovery at all.
While this post is not meant to be legal advice, if you want to learn more about Ohio negligence law or believe that you have a cause of action, we encourage you to contact a personal injury law firm to learn more.