Explanation of 51-percent Modified Comparative Fault

Twenty-one states use the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule. Insurance companies and lawyers use this legal doctrine to determine the percentage of fault, or negligence, each party has in a personal injury claim. The law of 51-percent comparative fault applies in car accidents, slip and falls, defective products, dog attacks, and other injury-accident claims.

The 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. But if you were 51 percent or more responsible for the accident, your claim can be denied. If you were 50 percent or less responsible, your claim is valid.

The following states use the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule:

New Hampshire
New Jersey
South Carolina

The remaining 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico use the no-fault, pure contributory negligence, modified 50 percent, or pure comparative fault rule.

Example of the 51-percent modified comparative fault rule:

Liv Alonne rented an apartment from the Wedont Kare Management Company. Her apartment was on the second floor. Liv called Wedont Kare’s apartment manager on five different occasions complaining one of the steps leading up to her apartment was loose.

Returning home one evening, Liv climbed the stairs to her apartment. (Before coming home, Liv stopped to pick up some groceries.) As she climbed the stairs, the grocery bags she was carrying blocked her view of the steps. Liv couldn’t see it, but the step she complained about was completely loose, causing Liv to fall and break her leg.

Liv filed an insurance claim with Wedont Kare’s insurance company asking for compensation for her medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and for her pain and suffering. Her total claim was $25,000.

After investigating, the insurance company learned Liv stopped at a local bar the same evening of her fall. The claims adjuster interviewed the bartender who remembered serving Liv five vodka and tonics that evening. The adjuster determined Liv consumed those drinks about one hour before she came home.

The insurance company denied Liv’s claim saying Liv was intoxicated at the time she fell. The company representative said her intoxication was at least 51 percent responsible for her fall. Because of the 51-percent comparative fault rule, the insurance company denied her claim.

Liv sued Wedont Kare. During trial, she admitted she’d had a few drinks but denied she was intoxicated. After hearing evidence of the five complaints Liv previously made about the loose step, the jury decided Liv’s alcohol consumption accounted for only 25 percent of the cause of her fall, and Wedont Kare was 75 percent at fault. The jury awarded Liv $18,750, or 75 percent of her demand.

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