What is the difference between a comparative negligence state like Florida and a contributory negligence state? Well, I can say right off the bat, comparative negligence as a legal method is far fairer for the injured victim.
In a comparative negligence system, both parties can argue about the percentage of fault of each party. No one must be 100% at fault and each can argue for what they believe is a fair division of fault. In the final outcome, a jury determines how to split up the total fault between the parties.
Imagine an automobile accident between two parties. Plaintiff is going west down Main Street. The Defendant is going North on Elm Street. At the intersection, they collide. The Plaintiff believes her light was green. The Defendant says his light was yellow and the Plaintiff jumped out into the intersection too early. A jury can listen to all the evidence and split up the fault any way they want. Maybe they find the Plaintiff 30% at fault and the Defendant 70%. Or vice-versa.
The jury also determines how much damage the Plaintiff suffered. There is a lot that goes into determining a proper and complete damage award. Pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, loss of income, medical bills. It’s a big topic for another blog post. Let’s just set the jury award at an easy to split up $1,000,000.00.
If the liability split is 30% on the Plaintiff and 70% on the Defendant, and the damages awarded are $1 million dollars, then the Verdict will be for the Plaintiff in the amount of $700,000. If the jury found the Plaintiff 70% at fault then the total award would only be $300,000. These percentages can go all the way to 99% vs. 1%. And vice-versa. You simply adjust the award of damages according to the percentage of fault.
Maybe it seems unfair to the Plaintiff to reduce their award when they are not significantly at fault compared to the Defendant. But it is a super fair system when you compare it to the alternative.
Some states keep the old Contributory negligence defense. In that legal theory, the Plaintiff is not entitled to ANY damages unless they are 100% NOT AT FAULT! If the jury finds the Plaintiff at fault then it’s over! No lawsuit! This is an extremely harsh and unfair system of justice.
Luckily Florida keeps the Comparative Fault system in place to protect its people from unfair and harsh outcomes.