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What Is Comparative Negligence in Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death, a deeply somber and complex topic, refers to fatalities caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another person or entity. Often, families pursue justice for their loved ones through wrongful death lawsuits, seeking compensation for their loss.


However, the dynamics of these claims can sometimes change, especially when there’s shared responsibility in the events leading to the death. This brings us to an essential principle in these legal battles: ‘comparative negligence.’


This principle evaluates the degree to which the deceased might have contributed to the incident and can significantly influence the outcome of wrongful death claims.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is a legal principle that recognizes that in some accidents, multiple parties, including the victim, may have played a role. Instead of assigning full blame to one party, the law examines the actions of everyone involved, assigning each a percentage of fault. For instance, one might be found 60% responsible while another bears 40% of the blame.


It’s crucial to distinguish this from ‘contributory negligence.’ In contributory negligence, if the victim had any fault, even minimal, they might be barred from receiving compensation. In contrast, comparative negligence seeks a more proportionate distribution of accountability.

What Are Wrongful Death Claims?

Wrongful death occurs when a person’s demise results from the negligence or intentional acts of another. It isn’t about premeditated actions but rather unintentional lapses or behaviors leading to fatal consequences.


When such a tragedy unfolds, it’s important to know what to do on behalf of the wrongful death victim. Specific parties, primarily close family members like spouses, children, or parents, are typically eligible to file a claim. Their objective? To seek justice and compensation for their emotional and financial loss.


However, the waters get murkier when the deceased might have also contributed to the events. Here, comparative negligence steps in, adjusting compensation based on each party’s degree of fault in the incident.

Examples to Illustrate Comparative Negligence in Wrongful Death

To better grasp the concept of comparative negligence, let’s explore two scenarios:


  • Imagine a pedestrian jaywalking across a busy road. Concurrently, a driver, exceeding the speed limit, hits the pedestrian, leading to a fatal outcome. Here, both the jaywalker’s decision and the driver’s speeding contribute to the accident.
  • In another instance, a worker in a factory doesn’t wear provided protective gear. However, the factory lacks adequate safety measures. If an accident results in the worker’s death, blame is shared between the worker’s negligence and the factory’s lax safety protocols.

In both examples, the fault is divided, affecting potential compensation. Both parties’ negligence must be considered in the case. In the state of California, comparative negligence would be applied to these scenarios.

What Are the Implications of Comparative Negligence in Settlements and Verdicts?

The principle of comparative negligence has significant consequences for settlements and court verdicts. First, the compensation a plaintiff might receive can be directly reduced by the victim’s degree of fault.


For instance, if a deceased is found 30% at fault, the compensation might be reduced by that percentage. Additionally, when more than one party contributed to the incident, liability can be distributed among them.


This means multiple defendants could be held accountable, with each bearing a portion of the total damages based on their degree of culpability, ensuring a fairer allocation of responsibility and compensation.

Benefits of Understanding Comparative Negligence

A grasp of comparative negligence is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it allows families and legal representatives to be better prepared when approaching a wrongful death case, ensuring all angles are considered.


Secondly, understanding this principle provides clarity, helping to set realistic expectations about potential settlements or verdicts and preventing any unwelcome surprises. In such a tragic time of loss, hearing that the victim could have been partially at fault could be very hard for some families.


Lastly, a solid knowledge of comparative negligence aids in shaping a strategic approach, whether during negotiations or when presenting the case in court. It offers guidance on where to focus, what to anticipate, and how best to argue for a just resolution.

What Steps Should Be Taken If Facing a Wrongful Death Claim?

If confronted with a wrongful death claim, taking informed steps is paramount. First and foremost, look for a wrongful death attorney. Their expertise is invaluable in navigating the complexities of such claims. Next, prioritize gathering robust evidence. This assists in delineating the fault of all involved parties and strengthens your case.


Lastly, invest time in understanding your rights and potential liabilities in the claim. Being aware of where you stand legally not only offers clarity but also helps in crafting a well-informed strategy, ensuring you’re well-equipped to handle the challenges of the claim.

Get the Help You Deserve From Our Experienced Trial Attorneys

The intricacies of wrongful death cases are underscored by the principle of comparative negligence, a concept that acknowledges that accidents often involve shared responsibilities. Recognizing its role can profoundly affect the trajectory and outcome of a claim, emphasizing the necessity to be well-informed.


When facing such grave legal matters, having a clear understanding isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential. While this overview provides a foundational insight, nothing replaces the guidance of professional legal counsel.


If confronted with a wrongful death scenario, seeking the expertise of a skilled attorney is the best course of action to ensure justice and fairness.


Contact our attorneys today to help determine comparative negligence in your wrongful death lawsuit.


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