50 Percent Modified Comparative Fault: Claims and Compensation

You can still get compensation, even if you share some blame for the accident. Learn how the 50 percent comparative fault rule will affect your claim.

Most American can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime.¹

Even the most careful drivers make mistakes. The chances are good that eventually you’ll be involved in an accident that was partially your fault.

The good news is that in most states, you’re eligible to pursue compensation from the other driver, even when you share some of the fault for circumstances that led to your injuries.

Understanding 50 Percent Comparative Fault Rules

There are a few jurisdictions with pure contributory negligence laws where you lose the right to compensation if you share any blame for an accident, even as little as one percent.

Fortunately, most states have laws that allow injured victims to be compensated based on the amount of blame they share for the accident.

If your injuries are from a car accident and you live in a no-fault auto insurance state, your medical expenses will be covered by your Med-pay or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, no matter who was at fault. 

Ten states use the 50 percent modified comparative fault law, sometimes called the “50 percent bar.”

When you’re injured in a 50 percent comparative fault state, you have the right to pursue compensation from the other party, so long as the at-fault party is more to blame than you.

If you are equally to blame, or more to blame for the situation, your claim can be denied. In other words, if you’re 50 percent or more at fault for the circumstances leading to your injuries, you are “barred” from seeking compensation from the other party.

Comparative fault rules apply to car accidents, slip and falls, defective product cases, dog attacks, and other injury claims.

States using the 50 percent modified comparative fault rule:


North Dakota

How the 50 Percent Bar Affects Your Payout

Your first encounter with the 50 percent comparative fault rule will usually be through the at-fault party’s insurance company. Here are some examples of how your claim for compensation can be reduced or denied.

Example: Dog Bite Claim

Clara shared her tiny house in the older part of town with her seven-year-old German Shepherd, Cookie. Clara let Cookie go outside several times a day into her yard that was surrounded by a five-foot-high chain-length fence.

Cookie was in the yard one evening when Franco and some of his buddies came walking down the street. Franco saw Cookie in the yard and thought it was funny to tease the dog.

Franco repeatedly smacked the fence with a stick and yelled to provoke Cookie. The more the dog barked and ran along the fence, the more Franco egged her on, until Cookie was snarling and snapping.

Clara came out of the house, frightened by the noise, just as Franco threw the stick at Cookie. Cookie jumped the fence to attack Franco, mauling his arm before Clara could pull her off.

Franco filed an injury claim with Clara’s homeowner’s insurance company, demanding $10,000 for his dog bite injuries, pain and suffering. The insurance company denied the claim, arguing that Franco was more than 50 percent to blame for his injuries because he intentionally provoked the dog to attack.

Because there was no evidence that Cookie would have attacked Franco without provocation, he was barred from receiving compensation from Clara or her insurance company.

Example: Car Accident Claim

Johnny was late getting out of work. Driving down Elm Street, he was texting his wife to let her know he was on his way to pick up their daughter from daycare.

Carla was heading in the opposite direction on Elm Street when she made a left turn in front of Johnny. Johnny couldn’t stop in time to avoid the collision and was severely injured. He was rushed to the hospital and had emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen.

Johnny was out of work for several months as he healed from multiple broken bones and internal injuries. Johnny filed a claim with Clara’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for his medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Clara’s insurance company denied Johnny’s claim, arguing that Johnny was more to blame for the accident than Clara because he was texting before the crash.

Johnny hired a personal injury attorney who filed a lawsuit against Clara. Johnny’s attorney convinced the jury that Clara’s negligence was the proximate cause of the accident because the collision wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t turned in front of Johnny’s car.

The jury agreed that Clara was the person most at fault for the collision, but she wasn’t the only one. The jury found that Johnny was 20 percent to blame for his injuries. They decided that if Johnny hadn’t been texting, he might have braked sooner, reducing the impact of the collision.

Johnny was awarded 80 percent of the $100,000 compensation demand. His $80,000 award represented a 20 percent reduction for his share of blame for the accident.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

The insurance adjuster is highly motivated to find a reason to deny your claim. Insurance companies reward employees for closing down claims quickly, for as little money as possible.

Protecting your claim begins at the scene of your injuries. Knowing what to do, and what not to do, puts you in a better position to prove your right to compensation.

Call 911:  No matter what caused your injury, always call for emergency services and always accept treatment. Refusing or delaying treatment will undermine your claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to dispute the cause and extent of your injuries.

Don’t say anything they can use against you: Don’t blame your shoes or make jokes after a slip and fall. Never apologize to the other driver in a crash or make any other admissions of fault after an injury.

Talk to an attorney before agreeing to give a recorded statement. Adjusters are trained to ask questions that can fool you into making statements that will come back to bite you.

Take pictures: Take photographs and video of the scene and your injury, as well as pictures of your wounds. Photographs can be very compelling. For example, pictures of your torn, bloody clothes.

Locate witnesses: Witness statements can make or break your injury claim. Talk to anyone who saw what happened and ask them to write down what they saw and heard. Be sure to get accurate names and contact information for any potential witness.

Don’t take no for an answer: The insurance company doesn’t want to pay large compensation settlements to injured claimants like you. They know if they say you are equally to blame for your injuries, you probably won’t have the energy or legal skills to fight back.

A good attorney knows how to find and use evidence of fault to turn the tables on the insurance company.

You don’t have to face this difficult situation on your own. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Protect your right to fair compensation.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>