Explanation of 50-percent Modified Comparative Fault

Twelve states use the 50-percent modified comparative fault law. Insurance companies and lawyers use it in personal injury claims to determine the percentage of responsibility, or negligence, each party has in an injury-accident claim. The rule of 50-percent comparative fault applies in car accidents, slip and falls, defective products, dog attacks, and other injury claims.

The 50-percent modified comparative fault rule states if you’re hurt in an accident, and the accident was partially your fault, you still have a right to compensation for your injuries from the party who caused the accident. But there’s a catch. If you were 50 percent or more liable for the accident, your claim can be totally denied. If you’re 49 percent or less liable, your claim is valid.

The following states use the 50-percent modified comparative fault rule:

North Dakota
West Virginia

The remaining 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico use the no-fault, pure contributory negligence, modified 51-percent, or pure comparative fault rules.

Example of 50-percent modified comparative fault:

Johnny B. Gud was driving down the road. Coming in the other direction was a car driven by Cara Less. Cara made a left turn in front of Johnny. Johnny couldn’t stop in time and both cars crashed into each other. Johnny was injured, Cara wasn’t. Johnny’s medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medicine and crutches, his lost wages, and pain and suffering amounted to $10,000.

Johnny sued Cara, claiming she was 100 percent at fault for the accident. Another driver witnessed the crash and stopped to help. Cara’s attorney called that witness to testify. The witness testified she saw Johnny texting on his cell phone right before the crash.

In the verdict, the jury found Johnny was 50 percent at fault and Cara was 50 percent at fault. Because of the 50-percent modified fault rule, Johnny received nothing.

If the jury decided Cara was 51 percent at fault and Johnny was 49 percent at fault, Johnny would receive $4,900. If the jury found Cara was 75 percent at fault, and Johnny was 25 percent, he would get $7,500. As long as Johnny’s fault was 49 percent or less, he would receive whatever amount the jury decided aligned with his percentage of fault.

Insurance companies keep computer-based records of thousands of injury claims and lawsuits. Before they make an offer to an injured party, they study previous claims with similar fact patterns and similar percentages of fault. If Johnny filed an insurance claim before filing his lawsuit, the company’s computer would say that in 90 percent of similar claims, the texting driver was 50 percent or more at fault. The company would then deny Johnny’s claim.

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