Comparative fault is a legal concept based on the fact that more than one driver can be responsible for an auto accident. So, if two drivers make a mistake on the road, resulting in an accident, who is liable for the damages? Different states take different approaches to answering that question. Tennessee and 11 other states follow a modified comparative fault principle, which allows at-fault drivers to collect a percentage of their claim as long as they are less than 50 percent liable. However, the court reduces that claim in proportion to the driver’s fault. Take for example a crash of two cars, each sustaining $100,000 in damages. The court decides Driver A is 30 percent at fault for looking down at a cellphone and Driver B is 70 percent at fault for making an abrupt lane change without signaling or looking in the mirror. Under modified comparative fault, the results would be:
  • Driver A can collect, but the court reduces his $100,000 claim by 30 percent to $70,000.
  • Driver B must pay Driver A $70,000, and cannot collect anything from Driver A, so there is no remedy for his own $100,000 loss.
If the court had divided fault equally at 50 percent, each driver would be off the hook for the other’s damages and would simply tend to his own losses. Is Tennessee’s method the fairest way to allocate fault? Consider the options other states employ:
  • Pure contributory fault — The strictest approach to comparative fault says that no one who helped cause the accident can collect compensation from anyone else. In our example, the result would be as if each driver was 50 percent at fault.
  • Pure comparative fault — The most lenient approach allows any injured party who is not totally responsible for the accident to collect damages reduced in proportion to their fault. In our example, Driver A could collect $70,000, but would have to pay $30,000, netting $40,000 against $100,000 in losses. Driver B would collect $30,000 but pay $70,000, losing a total of $140,000.
  • Modified comparative fault at 51 percent — This approach is most similar to Tennessee’s, setting the bar for recovery at 51 rather that 50 percent of fault. In our example, it would yield the same result.
It’s important to understand what comparative fault is and how insurance companies employ it as a defense to reduce the amount they must pay out for an auto accident. To recover the maximum amount of your claim, you must get the lowest possible assessment of fault. If you have questions about the issue of fault in your car accident case, our attorneys can help.  Call Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. today at [ln::phone] to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact us online.