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Whose Fault Is It? — Understanding Ohios Comparative Negligence Doctrine

Who is at fault? The answer to this question is vital when determining whether you are entitled to damages, and how much, after a motor vehicle accident. However, the answer is often debatable. Rarely is one driver 100 percent to blame for the crash. Instead, the negligent actions of each driver may have contributed to the incident, and so the question really becomes, to what extent?

Ohio follows the comparative negligence doctrine — meaning fault does not necessarily bar recovery. The Ohio Revised Code 2315.33 governs the contributory fault effect on the right to recover, which in a nutshell says:

  • A plaintiff who is more than 50 percent at fault is prohibited from recovering compensation from the other parties.
  • A plaintiff who is less than 50 percent at fault can recover damages, but the amount is reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault.

Prior to 1980, Ohio followed the contributory negligence doctrine, which resulted in zero compensation to plaintiffs who were even mildly to blame. For example, under the old system, if you suffered damages of $100,000, but you were 10 percent at fault, you would receive nothing.

The comparative negligence system bases your recovery on the percentage of your fault. Therefore, using the same scenario above, damages would be calculated as follows:

  • $100,000 total damages times .10 of your fault equals $10,000 deducted from the award.
  • $100,000 total damages minus $10,000 equals $90,000 awarded to you.

As you can see, this calculation is equally important if you are the defendant in an auto accident lawsuit. A northeast Ohio personal injury lawyer can help you to prove negligence in a plaintiff’s lawsuit or as an affirmative defense against a claim.

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