Most personal injury claims, such as car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and slip and fall injuries, are based in negligence. In other words, when you’re injured because someone else was negligent, you’re typically entitled to compensation. While Ohio Contributory Fault law can change things a bit, typically to recover damages in a personal injury case, the injured person must prove that:
- The defendant had a duty of care to the injured person;
- The defendant breached or failed in that duty of care;
- That breach or failure caused the injury and attendant damages.
But what if the defendant’s breach wasn’t the only cause? What if the injured person was also negligent, and that negligence was part of the reason the injury occurred?
For example, suppose a pedestrian is hit by a car while crossing legally in the crosswalk. The pedestrian had the right of way and the driver ignored a stop sign. But the pedestrian was looking down at his or her phone while walking across the street, rather than keeping an eye out for traffic. If the pedestrian had been paying attention, the injury might have been avoided. The driver was negligent…but, so was the injured person.
This type of scenario isn’t unusual. Often, more than one action, decision, oversight or error contributes to an accident. Many people assume they can’t recover if they were negligent themselves. This assumption sometimes leads injured people to neglect claims or to try to hide their own errors in an effort to secure compensation.
Fortunately for Ohio injury victims, the law has changed. Prior to 1980, Ohio courts applied a “contributory negligence” standard. Under that test, an injured person who was found to be even a little bit responsible for his or her own injury could not recover damages. However, current Ohio law allows for partial recovery for many injury victims who were partially responsible.
Ohio Contributory Fault Law
The current Ohio contributory fault statute explicitly says that contributory fault of the plaintiff does not bar recovery, as long as that fault does not exceed the fault of all other persons and entities, whether or not those others are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Although the statute still refers to contributory fault, the test applied is generally known as “comparative negligence.” In simple terms, the current Ohio law allows an injured person to recover damages if he or she was not more than 50% responsible for the event that caused the injury. However, the amount of damages the plaintiff can recover will be reduced in proportion to his or her own fault.
For instance, in the pedestrian accident example above, suppose the jury determined that the pedestrian suffered $100,000 in damages and the injury was 80% the driver’s fault and 20% the pedestrian’s fault. In that scenario, the pedestrian would be entitled to recover $80,000 (80% of the total damages) but would be responsible for the remaining 20%.
The analysis appears a bit more complicated when there are multiple responsible parties, but the bottom line on ability to recover remains the same: The injured party cannot recover damages if he or she bears more than half of the responsibility.
Liability of Individual Defendants in Ohio Personal Injury Cases
Just as the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced in proportion to his or her own fault, an individual defendant is responsible only in proportion to his or her own share of the blame. Imagine, for instance, that the driver in the pedestrian injury example was just 40% responsible, rather than 80%. The remaining 40% was attributable to another the operator of another vehicle, who cut into the driver’s lane without warning and distracted the driver.
In this situation, the injured pedestrian could still recover from the driver who hit them, but only in proportion to the driver’s fault. In other words, the victim would recover only 40% of the $100,000 in total damages, or $40,000. But, if the injured party had conducted a thorough investigation before filing suit and sued both drivers, each could have been held responsible for 40%, bringing the victim’s award of damages back up to $80,000.
That’s why it’s critical to identify every possible responsible party before proceeding with a personal injury claim.
Unfortunately, injury victims are rarely in a position to gather and assess the information needed to identify and locate all possible responsible parties. A law firm like Plevin & Gallucci, with extensive experience in handling a wide range of personal injury cases, can be your best resource.
In a motor vehicle accident case, some of the possible responsible parties include:
- Any driver involved in the accident;
- A driver’s employer, if the driver is on the job or operating a company vehicle;
- The vehicle’s owner, if the car or truck was negligently entrusted to the driver;
- Other drivers, motorcyclists, or others on the road who may have contributed to the accident;
- A governmental entity, if faulty road design, maintenance, or signage contributed to the crash;
- The manufacturer of the vehicle or a part of the vehicle if mechanical failure caused or partly caused the accident.
Of course, identifying and building a case against each of these types of parties requires expert legal counsel with in-depth knowledge and access to resources, such as:
- A thorough understanding of traffic-related negligence standards;
- Knowledge and/or accessible experts in road design and other related issues;
- Knowledge and/or accessible experts in automotive safety and product liability issues;
- Experience in handling third-party liability and vicarious liability cases;
- Awareness of shortened timelines and differing procedures for certain types of claims.
Don’t put your personal injury compensation at risk by overlooking a possible responsible party. The personal injury lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci are dedicated to helping injured people in Ohio receive fair compensation. Decades ago, our founding partners bonded over the shared belief that the client always comes first, and that core value still guides our practice today.
To learn more about how we can help you navigate your personal injury claim, from identifying responsible parties through gathering evidence, negotiation, and trying your case before a jury, schedule a free consultation right now.