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What is comparative negligence, and how does it work in New York?

Motor vehicle accidents can be complex, and it isn’t always easy to determine who is liable for a crash. In some cases, liability may be easily attributable to the actions of only one party. In other cases, liability may be distributed among multiple parties, including the individual who initiates a personal injury lawsuit.

An important issue in any motor vehicle accident case is to identify the parties responsible for causing harm. This includes not only the drivers and other individuals directly involved in the accident, but also third parties who may have acted negligently and thus contributed to the causing the accident. When multiple parties are found to be at fault, it is important to accurately determine—as far as possible—to proportional contribution of each parties. This is the principle of comparative negligence.

Different states have different approaches to comparative negligence. Some states only allow a plaintiff to only recover damages up until a certain threshold of liability—some states say 50 percent is the cutoff, while others say 51 percent. New York is among a group of states which utilize a pure comparative fault approach, which does not involve any liability threshold.

Under New York’s approach, a plaintiff is able to recover damages for liability not attributable to the plaintiff, even if the plaintiff is found to be mostly responsible for his or her own injuries. With this approach, there is an increased focus for defendants on minimizing their own liability and maximizing the plaintiff’s liability, since even small proportions of damages may be recovered.

Working with an experienced attorney, of course, is important to ensure not only that liability is properly accounted for and apportioned, but also so that damages are accurately calculated. This is especially important for those who significantly contributed to their own injuries.


N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1411

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