Contributory and Comparative Negligence in Delaware Car Accident Cases

Car Accident CasesDetermining liability in a car accident is not always a straightforward process. At Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, our Delaware car crash lawyers have the skills and a trusted reputation of protecting injured accident victims in and around Wilmington, Newark, and Seaford.

There are many people who can be at fault for your car crash injuries. Responsible defendants can include the driver of another vehicle, the owners of that vehicle, a company that hired the negligent driver, or even the state of Delaware. A tavern that served alcohol to the driver knowing that the driver was drunk, or a manufacturer of a defective car part may have caused the injuries or worse – death.

What all of these defendants have in common is that they will use every legal theory they can to defend themselves. Delaware, like many states, recognizes that not every car accident case is cut and dry. Some victims contribute to their own injuries. It used be the law in Delaware that if a plaintiff (the injured person who is bringing the legal claim for payment for economic losses and pain and suffering) was even one percent at fault, the plaintiff would lose any right to bring a claim. The old strict Delaware law was called contributory negligence.

Changes in law allow increased rights for plaintiffs

That law changed in 1984. In that year, Delaware adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence means that fault is apportioned. Imagine the following case:

  • The plaintiff suffers a broken leg, cuts and bruises, and a sprained back.
  • The plaintiff was going 5mph over the speed limit, but the defendant ran through a stop sign.
  • The jury determines that the case is worth $50,000.
  • The jury decides the plaintiff was 10% at fault and the defendant was 90% at fault.

Comparative negligence will reduce the award by 10%, which means the plaintiff will get $45,000 ($50,000 minus $5,000). If the plaintiff was going 15 mph over the speed limit, the jury may decide the plaintiff was 40% at fault. Here, the plaintiff’s award would be reduced by 40% to $30,000.

There is a catch, though. The plaintiff is entitled to an award, even a reduced award, ONLY if the plaintiff’s fault was less than or equal to 50%. If the plaintiff was going 30 mph over the speed limit and the jury finds that that plaintiff was 50% at fault, then the plaintiff will get nothing.

The experienced Delaware car accident lawyers at Silverman, McDonald & Friedman understand how to try accident cases. With more than 100 years of combined litigation experience, we thoroughly prepare each case for trial, anticipating the legal arguments defense lawyers will make. We argue that our client did not contribute to the accident or that any contribution was minimal. For strong advocacy, please call us at 302-888-2900 or complete our contact form to make a free appointment. We have conveniently located offices in Wilmington, Newark and Seaford.