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What is Florida’s Comparative Negligence Statute?

Fiol & Morros Law Group|Posted in Lawsuits on August 17, 2020

Liability is a tricky matter during even a simple and straightforward personal injury case. When a case involves two or more parties that were negligent or the injured victim’s negligence, it can be even more difficult to resolve. Divided liability among multiple parties is such a debated subject that each of the 50 states has chosen its own way to handle these types of claims. The Florida legislature has adopted a pure comparative negligence system to apportion fault and award plaintiffs.

If you have injuries from an accident in Tampa you might have contributed to, you may need a personal injury lawyer to help you navigate Florida’s comparative negligence statute. A defendant may try to use this doctrine against you to reduce or eliminate your recovery award. The right attorney could prepare you for this defense and optimize your ability to recover financial compensation.

Is Florida a Comparative Fault State?

The two main types of fault systems used in the US are contributory and comparative negligence. Florida is a comparative negligence, or comparative fault, state. A comparative fault system is more plaintiff-friendly than a contributory fault system. In comparative negligence states, including Florida, the civil courts allow injured victims (plaintiffs) to recover financial compensation even if they were partially responsible for their accidents and injuries.

Today, most states have done away with contributory negligence systems. Only five states still use this controversial method of handling cases involving divided liability: Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. The rest of the states have opted for some version of comparative negligence law. In contributory negligence states, a plaintiff’s partial negligence – no matter how small – will bar him or her from recovery completely. Even a small percentage of fault, such as 1% to 3%, will mean $0 in recoverable damages for the plaintiff in a contributory negligence state. In comparative negligence states, on the other hand, a victim’s percentage of fault will reduce the recovery available, not take it away entirely.

Pure Comparative Fault

There are many different iterations of the comparative negligence rule. States with comparative negligence doctrines use either a pure or a modified version, with different variations available. In Florida, the courts use a pure comparative fault law. Florida Statute 768.81 states that a plaintiff’s contributions to an injury will diminish the amount awarded in economic and noneconomic damages in proportion with his or her contributory fault. A plaintiff’s contribution toward causing an accident, therefore, will reduce the amount of money he or she can recover in a personal injury claim.

The pure aspect of Florida’s comparative negligence law means no cap exists on the amount of fault a plaintiff can have while still recovering compensation. Under Florida’s law, a plaintiff could be 99% responsible for causing his or her accident and still obtain a monetary recovery. In states that use modified comparative fault rules, the law caps a plaintiff’s ability to recover at a certain percentage, usually between 49% and 51%. The exact cap is up to the state’s discretion. If the courts in these states believe the plaintiff exceeds the cap in terms of liability for the accident in question, the plaintiff will lose all right to recover. No such cap bars financial recovery for a plaintiff in the State of Florida, however, regardless of his or her amount of fault.

Comparative Negligence in Several Liability Cases

In granting damage awards, the courts in Florida must enter judgments against each liable party based on the comparative negligence doctrine, not on joint and several liability, according to part 3 of Florida’s negligence law. Joint and several liability is a rule some states use to hold more than one party independently responsible for the full amount of a victim’s damages.

The joint and several liability rules states that despite two or more defendants sharing fault for the same accident, and regardless of respective percentages of fault, each defendant found liable will be independently responsible for covering 100% of the plaintiff’s losses. For the most part, the courts in Florida use the comparative fault law instead of joint and several liability, meaning each responsible party will only be responsible for his or her amount of fault – no more, no less. Only certain claims in Florida have the right to apply the doctrine of joint and several liability.

Examples of Comparative Negligence

Florida’s pure comparative negligence rule works by adjusting an injured plaintiff’s financial recovery by an amount that matches his or her percentage of fault for causing the accident. A common example of how this negligence rule can affect a claim in Florida is during a car accident lawsuit. If you went up against another driver for failing to yield and causing your car accident, but that driver proves you contributed to the crash by texting and driving, the courts would reduce your recovery by your allotted percentage of fault.

If the courts allocated 20% of fault for the collision to you for texting, you would receive 20% less compensation from the defendant. A $100,000 judgment award, in this example, would be reduced by 20% ($20,000), giving you a final award of $80,000. Your apportioned amount of fault, therefore, is critical in determining how much money you will receive for your damages in Florida. If more than one defendant contributed to your accident, each would owe you an amount equivalent to his or her percentage of fault.

Comparative Negligence in Personal Injury Cases

The comparative negligence defense could reduce your recovery award during a personal injury case in Florida. It is a defense the courts allow a defendant to use during any type of personal injury claim, including car accidents, slip and falls, work accidents, and premises accidents. If the defendant in your case alleges your comparative fault for your injuries, you and your personal injury lawyer would have to fight back by proving the defendant’s majority share of fault for your accident.

Proof against a defendant to use during a comparative negligence defense could include photographs from the accident site, surveillance video footage, eyewitness accounts, accident reconstruction, medical records and testimony from a medical expert. An attorney could gather and demonstrate evidence proving the defendant’s fault on your behalf, potentially reducing or eliminating your percentage of comparative fault. Proving the defendant’s fault could in turn increase the amount of compensation he or she owes you for damages.

A successful award could pay you for losses such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, property repairs, and more. Recovering a fair amount, however, may take assistance from an attorney – especially if you believe you contributed to your accident or injury. Hiring a lawyer could help you maximize your compensatory award with the resources and skill it takes to navigate an element such as Florida’s comparative negligence law.