Sometimes a motor vehicle accident is clearly the fault of one driver. In other cases, two or more drivers may share the blame. But even if you are partially at fault for an accident, you may still be able to recover damages against the other driver depending on your relative level of responsibility.
New York follows a “pure comparative negligence” standard when it comes to awarding damages in car accident cases. Under this standard, you can still sue and recover from another driver even if you were also at fault for the accident. But your damage award must be reduced according to your own liability. For example, if a judge or jury determines you were 20% at-fault for the accident, any damage award must likewise be reduced by 20%.
To offer a more concrete example, a federal judge in Brooklyn recently applied comparative negligence to a case involving a motorcycle colliding with a truck owned by the United States Postal Service. The accident occurred in 2013. The postal truck was traveling south the motorcycle was heading north on the same road. Both vehicles approached the same intersection where the traffic signal had just turned red. When the light turned green, the motorcycle proceeded straight ahead while the postal truck executed a left-hand turn, at which point it collided with the motorcycle.
The cyclist sued the Postal Service as the owner of the truck. After a bench trial in Brooklyn federal court, the judge determined each driver was 50% at-fault for the accident. Contrary to the cyclist's testimony at trial, the judge said the remaining evidence established he “was traveling dangerously fast when he entered the intersection and he was not keeping a proper lookout.” The cyclist essentially sped towards the intersection assuming, incorrectly, the light was about to turn green. As a result, he did not see the postal truck until it was too late.
That said, the judge also faulted the truck driver. When she began her turn into the intersection, the judge said she “failed to look to see if anyone was coming down the lane she was turning into.” Overall, the judge found neither driver's testimony especially credible. However, photographs and other evidence taken from the accident scene allowed the judge to reconstruct the events to his satisfaction. Ultimately, the judge awarded the cyclist approximately $120,000 in damages for past medical expenses, $180,000 for future medical expenses, $32,000 for past lost wages, and $1.15 million for pain and suffering. All but the damages for past medical expenses were reduced 50% to reflect the cyclist's contributory negligence, placing his actual recovery at about $800,0000.