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What Effect Can Contributory Fault Have on My Ohio Personal Injury Lawsuit?

by onApril 23, 2019

Getting hurt in a car accident, truck crash, or another accident can be devastating. Collisions and other accidents can be especially frustrating when they result from someone else’s negligence. For example, motor vehicle crashes often happen because another motorist is careless or reckless, which could involve a wide variety of behaviors from texting on a cell phone to driving while intoxicated. It can be difficult to think about filing a personal injury lawsuit after you have suffered significant injuries, but filing a claim often is the best way to seek financial compensation for your losses.

Once you are determined to file a personal injury lawsuit and move forward with your claim against the negligent party, it can be angering and confusing to learn that the defendant is alleging contributory fault. What is contributory fault, and what effect can it have on a personal injury lawsuit in Ohio?

What is Contributory Fault?

Contributory fault (Ohio Rev. Code § 2315.33) is an affirmative defense that the defendant can assert in order to not be held fully responsible—or in some cases responsible at all—for providing financial compensation for a plaintiff’s losses. Contributory fault, which also may be described in terms of comparative fault or contributory negligence, refers to a plaintiff’s contribution to the accident that caused his or her injuries.

Different states deal with contributory fault in various ways. Some states follow a pure contributory negligence rule that says whenever a plaintiff contributed to his or her own injuries at all, that plaintiff is barred from recovery. In other words, even if the plaintiff is only 1% responsible, the law says the plaintiff is not allowed to recover anything. Other states follow a nearly opposite approach with a pure comparative fault rule, which says that a plaintiff always can recover regardless of his or her amount of fault, but the award will be reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. For example, if a plaintiff is 75% liable, the damages awarded will be reduced by 75% and he or she will only recover 25% of the total award.

Ohio follows a contributory fault rule that falls somewhere in the middle of the two approaches described above. Ohio’s modified contributory fault rule says that a plaintiff can recover damages if he or she is liable, but only if that liability is less than 51%. To be clear, an Ohio personal injury plaintiff cannot be more at fault than the defendant (or defendants). As long as the plaintiff is not 51% or more responsible, he or she will recover, but the damages awarded will be reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault or liability.

Understanding How Ohio Contributory Fault Works in Practice

Once a plaintiff files a claim and the defendant raises contributory fault as a defense, the court will determine how responsible—if at all—the plaintiff is for the accident and her own injuries. Then, the court will award a damages amount, and the plaintiff will receive a portion of that award based on her own liability.

For example, if an Ohio court says a plaintiff is 50% to blame and awards $50,000 in damages, the plaintiff would receive 50% of that damages award, or $25,000. Similarly, if a plaintiff is 5% to blame and is awarded $50,000, that award would be reduced by 5%, or $2,500, and the plaintiff would receive $47,500. Once the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, however, the plaintiff is barred from recovery.

Contact an Ohio Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have questions about filing a claim or concerns about how contributory fault might impact your case, an experienced Ohio personal injury lawyer can speak with you today. Contact Lafferty, Gallagher & Scott, LLC for more information.

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