Personal injury lawsuits often involve complex accident scenarios and difficult questions regarding apportionment of fault where the combined actions of multiple parties causes an injury. In these cases, New Jersey law provides juries a mechanism for determining each party’s share of responsibility for the damages. The NJ Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1, et seq., allows juries to apportion fault for a single accident to multiple parties and assign liability in terms of a percentage of fault to each party. In order to obtain a recovery, an injured plaintiff must be found no more than 50% at fault for causing their injuries.
N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1 establishes the framework of the Comparative Negligence Act, providing that "
[c]ontributory negligence shall not bar recovery in an action by any person or his legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property, if such negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought or was not greater than the combined negligence of the persons against whom recovery is sought. Any damages sustained shall be diminished by the percentage sustained of negligence attributable to the person recovering."
N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2 vests in the jury the power to make findings of fact regarding liability and damages. It provides in pertinent part that "[i]n all negligence actions and strict liability actions in which the question of liability is in dispute . . . for negligence resulting in injury to the person or to real or personal property, the trier of fact shall make the following as findings of fact: (1) The amount of damages which would be recoverable by the injured party regardless of any consideration of negligence or fault, that is, the full value of the injured party’s damages. (2) The extent, in the form of a percentage, of each party’s negligence or fault. The percentage of negligence or fault of each party shall be based on 100% and the total of all percentages of negligence or fault of all the parties to a suit shall be 100%."
N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.3 allows a recovering plaintiff to obtain the full damage award from any party found to be at least 60% at fault by the jury. Parties who are found less than 60% at fault can only be held accountable for their percentage share of the total damage award. Thus, if a defendant is found to be 50% responsible for an injured plaintiff's damages, where the total damages are determined to be $100,000, the plaintiff could only recover $50,000 from that defendant. However, if the same defendant was found to be 60% or more responsible for the plaintiff's damages, the plaintiff could proceed to collect the total damage award of $100,000 from that defendant.
If you or a loved one have been involved in a personal injury accident where multiple parties acted in concert to cause the injuries, it is important to contact an experienced New Jersey personal lawyer. An experienced accident attorney can guide you through the complexities of the New Jersey legal system, and help you pursue a recovery from all negligent parties. The insurance companies will have lawyers working for them, and so should you.