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Pennsylvania Contributory Negligence Law Affects Damages Awards in Personal Injury Claims

Pennsylvania law holds that individuals who have suffered injuries in an accident may recover compensation for damages, even when they are partly at fault for the accident. This is the legal doctrine of contributory negligence, and it maintains that a plaintiff’s own negligence is not a bar to recovering compensation, provided they were less than 51 percent responsible for causing the accident.  Pennsylvania follows what is deemed a modified comparative negligence doctrine.

Negligence is a legal theory that forms the foundation of many personal injury claims.  Defined as a failure to use reasonable care, the elements of a negligence claim include a duty of care, a breach of duty, causation, and damages.  The duty of care includes the responsibility all people have not to cause foreseeable harm to others.

In the example of a car accident, drivers owe others on the road a duty to drive reasonably, abiding by the rules of the road.  By speeding or recklessly weaving through traffic, a driver is not demonstrating a duty of care.  If this breach leads to an accident and resulting harm, the victim, as the plaintiff in a personal injury action, can pursue damages against the defendant driver.

To determine fault in an accident arising from negligence, the individual pursuing the legal claim will present evidence demonstrating the defendant breached a duty of care.  For a car accident, the victim may rely on police accident reports, particularly if a traffic law was violated.  Witness testimony may be used as evidence of a breached duty of care, as well as accident scene photos and vehicle damage. In the above example, the defendant in the injury claim may have been cited in the police report for violating the speed limit.

Comparative negligence is often advanced by a defendant, alleging that the plaintiff contributed to the accident and should recover less compensation than if the defendant were entirely at fault.  According to Pennsylvania law, each party to a negligence claim is assigned their share of fault.  This share reflects the degree to which their action (or inaction) contributed to the accident and harm.  Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence rule allows plaintiffs to recover compensation if they were less than 51 percent at fault.  Plaintiffs deemed more than 50 percent liable will not recover compensation.

In the car accident example, if the defendant were found to be 70 percent responsible for causing the accident, and the plaintiff were 30 percent responsible, the plaintiff could pursue a legal claim against the defendant and recover 70 percent of the total award.

Evidence in a personal injury claim plays a critical role.  Plaintiffs seeking damages for their harm must rely on evidence to demonstrate fault.  After suffering injuries in an accident in Pennsylvania, contact Needle Law Firm to discuss your claim with a skilled personal injury attorney. We provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation and can be reached online or by calling 570-344-1266.

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