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What Happens When Multiple Parties Are at Fault for a Personal Injury?

Offered by Pajcic & Pajcic

The accident itself was over in moments, but navigating the fallout may take years

An armored car cuts in front of a passenger car. The driver of the car has to swerve, loses control, and is subsequently hit by two tractor-trailers. Who’s responsible?

That was a real case we handled. Getting to the bottom of what happened and holding the many responsible parties accountable took eight lawsuits, nine mediations, one trial, and seven settlements.

In another case, we represented the family of a woman who lost her life after rear-ending a truck and then being hit by a second truck. Holding both trucking companies accountable involved thoroughly reviewing company records, deposing ten eyewitnesses, and hiring an expert to reconstruct the accident scene to help us reach two seven-figure settlements.

These types of accidents are unfortunately common, and the legal situation facing the injured person in such a scenario can quickly become exceptionally complex. If you’ve been hurt in an accident that may have been caused by multiple people or entities, you need experienced legal counsel to sort it out.

Every state uses some form of comparative fault to apportion damages

When multiple parties are partially responsible for a single incident, the legal doctrine of comparative negligence applies. Essentially, this means that each party (whether that’s an individual, a business, or even a government entity) is responsible for a percentage of the damages (financial compensation) in proportion to their percentage of fault.

For instance, if two drivers are found 60% and 40% responsible for a car accident, a third party injured in that accident could recover 60% of their damages from the first driver and 40% from the second driver. The same principle applies in any similar personal injury scenario – suppose a property owner and a tenant contribute to a hazardous condition that causes a slip and fall, or a product manufacturer and distributor are both responsible for a dangerous product.

What varies from state to state is the rule applied when the injured person is partially responsible for the accident. Most states, including Florida, use a “modified” comparative negligence standard, which blocks people who are at least 50% or 51% responsible from getting compensation for their injuries. So, someone who is 30% at fault can recover compensation, but it will be reduced by 30%. However, someone who is 60% at fault cannot recover.

In states that use “pure” comparative negligence, the injured person can always recover whatever percentage of the injury isn’t their fault – even someone who is 90% at fault can, at least in theory, recover compensation for the 10% that is not their fault. (Whether it’s practical to actually do so depends on the situation.) A few states still use the “contributory negligence” standard, which means you generally can’t recover at all if you are even slightly responsible for your injuries.

Evidence is critical, and thorough investigation may uncover more defendants

Even in a situation where it initially seems like only one party is at fault, further investigation may show that there’s more to the story. For example, in the case referenced above, investigation revealed liability on not only the driver of the armored car, but also the armored car’s manufacturer because they left a blind spot in the passenger’s side view mirror, as well as the manufacturer of the injured person’s car because a defect in the seat and seat belt system caused the driver to be ejected through the back window.

This is one of the reasons thorough investigation is critical: it can make the difference between inadequate insurance to cover the harms and losses sustained and the ability to make a full recovery. Prompt action is key, too, because it’s necessary to interview witnesses before they forget what they saw and secure physical evidence before it can be destroyed. In short, you need experienced legal counsel to navigate a complex injury case.

An experienced injury attorney can deal with multiple at-fault parties and insurance companies

When there are multiple parties responsible for an accident, there are also multiple insurance companies involved. Ostensibly, those companies are competitors, but they have a shared interest in minimizing the amount of money paid out to protect their bottom lines. Depending on the circumstances, accepting a settlement offer from one insurance company can affect another insurance company’s liability as well.

In any personal injury case with multiple at-fault parties, it’s even more critical that you get experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. If you’ve been injured, discuss your options with a personal injury attorney in your area right away.

Pajcic & Pajcic is a personal injury law firm based in Jacksonville, FL.

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Founded in 1974 by Steve and Gary Pajcic, Pajcic & Pajcic represents injured people in Jacksonville, throughout Florida, and nationwide. We’ve handled over 10,000 cases and recove...