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How to defend against comparative negligence arguments

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Car Accidents

When you’re injured in a car accident, you want to recover as much compensation as possible so that you can offset your losses and secure financial stability while you focus on recovering your health. To achieve this outcome, you’ll have to present compelling evidence that convinces the judge or jury that the other side was responsible for your accident. But what if you partially contributed to the wreck?

This is a common position New Jersey victims find themselves in after a serious car accident. Even if they feel like they didn’t contribute to the wreck at all, the other errant driver often argues that they weren’t solely responsible for the crash. One explanation for this is simple: New Jersey recognizes comparative negligence.

What does this mean? It means that if you’re found to be at fault for your accident, even if you contributed to it in a minimal way, your financial recovery can be reduced by the percentage of fault that’s assigned to you. Your claim could even be denied if you’re found too much at fault. In other words, you can be left at a financial disadvantage if you’re not careful.

The exact approach you take is going to depend on the circumstances of your case. For example, if there’s no question that you played a contributing role to the accident, then your focus should be on minimization. That said, there are some general approaches you can take to comparative negligence that we’ll discuss here. This includes doing the following:

  • Acquiring a command of the facts: You need to analyze the evidence with a critical eye. By doing so, you’ll see where the defense can raise comparative fault arguments. In turn, you’ll have the opportunity to develop counterarguments that protect your position. If you don’t have a command of the evidence, then you’ll be caught flat-footed at trial when the defense raises comparative negligence arguments. This puts your claim at risk.
  • Be honest with yourself: A lot of car accident victims are in denial about the role they played in their wreck. This sets you up for ineffective arguments. If you’re honest with yourself, though, then you can better prepare your claim in anticipation of the defense’s arguments.
  • Focus on witness credibility: If the defense is going to raise a comparative negligence argument, then they’ll present witness testimony that you were to blame for the accident. You might be able to diminish the power of that testimony by attacking the credibility and thus the reliability of those witnesses. To effectively do so, it’s a good idea to depose the defense’s witnesses and point out any inconsistencies in their depositional and trial testimony. You can discuss other strategies here with your attorney.
  • Turn to expert witnesses: Comparative negligence arguments are often raised in cases with extensive damages or complex fact patterns. You can cut through a lot of the uncertainty, though, by having experts testify in your case. These individuals can speak to causation, and their thorough written report submitted to the court can be compelling.

If you leave a comparative negligence defense unaddressed, then the value of your personal injury claim will be drastically reduced. But you don’t have to let that happen. Instead, you can aggressively counter any arguments that are raised against you. That can be hard to do when you’ve never been embroiled in the legal system before, but you can seek out any help you might need preparing and presenting your case.

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