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Comparative Negligence: How Does it Affect Pedestrian Accidents in California?

Comparative Negligence: How Does it Affect Pedestrian Accidents in California

If you were injured by a negligent motorist while walking down the street in California, the last thing you need to worry about is complicated legal concepts. What you need is an effective treatment for your injuries – and this is not always easy to secure. After all, the cost of medical treatment has never been higher in California – and your injuries may be quite severe. Pedestrians are extremely vulnerable to catastrophic injuries caused by negligent drivers – even at relatively low speeds. To compound this issue, you might also be struggling to earn any income due to the nature of your injuries. Despite these urgent needs, it may be helpful to gain a basic understanding of certain legal concepts after a pedestrian accident in San Bernardino County. One of the most important of these concepts is something called “comparative negligence.”

What is Comparative Negligence in California?

Comparative negligence is a legal doctrine that allows plaintiffs to file injury lawsuits even if they are partially responsible for their own accidents. Under this system, courts recognize that more than one party may be responsible for any single accident – and that each of these parties may have contributed to the accidents in varying degrees. For example, four different people could each be 25% “at fault” for the same accident. 

Comparative negligence is the most common system for jurisdictions throughout the United States. However, there is also a much less common system known as “contributory fault.” Followed by only a few States, this system completely prevents a plaintiff from pursuing a personal injury lawsuit even if they were just 1% responsible for their accident. This is essentially the exact opposite of comparative negligence – which allows plaintiffs to pursue personal injury lawsuits even if they partially caused their own accidents. 

What is ‘Pure” Comparative Negligence in California?

While many States follow the comparative negligence doctrine, there are two sub-categories of this system. The first is “modified” comparative negligence – a system that only allows plaintiffs to file injury lawsuits if someone else was “mostly” responsible for their accidents. While the exact details of modified comparative negligence vary from state to state, this generally means that plaintiffs cannot sue if they were approximately 50% responsible for their own accidents. 

The second type is “pure” comparative negligence. Unlike a modified system, a State that follows pure comparative negligence places absolutely zero limitations on plaintiffs after accidents. There is no “50% rule,” and instead, plaintiffs can file claims even if they were 99% responsible for their own accidents. California follows this system of pure comparative negligence. 

As you might have guessed, however, there is a catch. The amount of your compensation decreases as a function of your level of fault. Therefore, if a plaintiff is 99% responsible for their own accident, they only stand to receive 1% of their total settlement. In practice, this means that such lawsuits simply are not worth it. Still, plaintiffs can decide for themselves whether they want to proceed with lawsuits – whether they are 33%, 50%, or 75% at fault for their own accidents. 

How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Pedestrian Injury Lawsuits in California?

Comparative negligence often becomes an important concept in pedestrian injury lawsuits because of the concept of “jaywalking.” Technically speaking, pedestrians are breaking the law in California whenever they cross a road outside of a designated crosswalk or stop sign. If a pedestrian is struck and injured while jaywalking, the at-fault driver may argue that this traffic offense represents a form of negligence. 

In a modified comparative negligence state or a contributory fault jurisdiction, these pedestrians may be completely unable to pursue compensation for their injuries. Their alleged jaywalking might represent a degree of fault that disqualifies them from filing a personal injury lawsuit. In California, however, a pedestrian would still have the option to file an injury lawsuit, even if the at-fault driver successfully establishes that the pedestrian was jaywalking at the time of the accident. 

How Much Compensation Will I Receive After Being Hit While Jaywalking?

As with so many other aspects of the law, the outcome of a jaywalking injury lawsuit will depend on the specific circumstances at hand. There are varying degrees of jaywalking negligence, and there are also many types of driver negligence. 

For example, you might have crossed after the “walking man” symbol faded – but before the “stop hand.” In this transitionary period, a countdown might begin. Technically speaking, you are not supposed to cross once this countdown has begun. However, you might believe that you have enough time to walk across the crosswalk if you move quickly enough.

While this might technically constitute a minor form of jaywalking, it is clearly not the same as dashing into the middle of a highway without warning. A highway is also a very different setting compared to a quiet residential area. You might cross the street in your suburban area without expecting a vehicle to suddenly screech around a corner at 60 miles per hour. In contrast, a reasonable person should expect to encounter high-velocity vehicles when crossing a highway. 

Speaking of reckless drivers, courts also consider the level of recklessness exhibited by the driver. If the driver in question was intoxicated, this negligence might completely overshadow your alleged jaywalking. You might successfully argue that even if you were not jaywalking, the intoxicated driver would have still represented a threat. Courts may consider a wide range of other driver negligence, such as distracted driving, speeding, street racing, and fatigue. 

In the end, all of these various factors must be taken into account to determine how much compensation you should receive as an injured pedestrian. In any case, the point is somewhat moot – as jaywalking was officially legalized in California back in 2023

Find a Personal Injury Attorney in San Bernardino County

If you have been searching for an experienced personal injury lawyer in San Bernardino County, look no further than Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP. With our assistance, you can approach a personal injury lawsuit with confidence after a pedestrian collision. Our personal injury attorneys know that these accidents can easily lead to life-altering injuries for pedestrians, and our personal injury lawyers are here to guide you toward the compensation you need. Book a consultation today to discuss the most appropriate way to pursue compensation for medical expenses, missed wages, emotional distress, and various other damages.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.