After a car crash, it’s tempting to go up to the other (at-fault) driver, check on them, and make a meaningless apology. “I didn’t see you until it was too late!” However, you may be shocked when the driver’s insurance company tries to use your words against you—and reduce your personal injury settlement.
Like many states, insurance companies in Oklahoma can proportionately reduce your financial recovery using a theory of comparative negligence. In this blog, we’ll outline everything you need to know about Oklahoma’s comparative negligence laws and how a skilled personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve after a crash.
What Is Comparative Negligence and Why Does it Matter?
In Oklahoma, when a victim was partially responsible for a car accident, there’s a chance they might only receive a fraction of their claim’s value — or have their claim denied completely. Lawyers refer to this concept as comparative or contributory negligence. However, state laws approach the allocation of fault after an accident differently.
Pure Contributory Negligence
Under pure contributory negligence, if the jury finds the victim contributed to the accident in any way — by speeding, for example, they will be unable to recoup any damages after an accident.
Comparative fault reduces a victim’s financial recovery in proportion to the level of fault they played in the accident. If the other driver was 75% at fault for the crash, you should receive 75% of your damages.
Modified Comparative Fault
Comparative fault allows victims to recover damages proportionately. However, if a victim is 51% or more at fault, they may not be entitled to any compensation.
In Oklahoma, we use a theory of modified comparative negligence.
For example, imagine you are zipping through an intersection when a drunk driver runs a stop sign and T-bones your car. The police officer notes that you were going 10 m.p.h. over the speed limit, but the other driver had a B.A.C. of 0.09% — over the legal limit. At a trial, a jury may assign 20% of the blame to you, and 80% to the drunk driver. If you have $100,000 in damages, the driver’s insurance company would only have to pay you $80,000, or 80% of your total loss.
If you are responsible for more than half of the accident, you cannot recover any damages. For example, if you were driving 25 m.p.h. over the speed limit when a sober driver rolled through a stop sign, a jury may find you 51% at fault for the crash. In this case, you could not recover anything after the crash.
3 Ways You Can Protect Yourself From a Comparative Negligence Defense
After a crash, you deserve every possible resource in order to put your life back together. After a crash, use these three strategies to protect yourself:
1. Don’t Apologize or Admit Fault
Saying “I’m sorry” can feel like the natural response to a scary situation. However, the insurance company may try to use your apology against you, arguing that you don’t deserve full compensation because you admitted fault at the time of the crash. Instead of apologizing, stick to the facts when you talk to other drivers, the police, and insurance company representatives.
2. Preserve Evidence That Supports Your Claim
After a crash, supporting evidence is essential. If you are able, call the police right away. The authorities will investigate the crash and issue an accident report. You should also take photos at the scene (even cell phone images are sufficient) and take down witnesses’ names and contact information. Your personal injury lawyer can use this data while investigating your claims and building your case against an at-fault driver.
3. Consult With an Experienced Injury Lawyer
If the driver who hurt you is claiming that you are responsible for the crash, you need to speak with an injury lawyer. Many times, a lawyer can identify legal arguments and evidence that combat the insurance company’s comparative negligence defenses. For example, your attorney may consult with accident reconstruction experts who can pinpoint the exact causes of a crash.
Hurt in a Crash? Call Atkins & Markoff
If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence and are being accused of contributing to the accident, you don’t have to fight alone. At Atkins & Markoff, we understand the complex litigation process that happens after a car crash and have years of experience working with victims who are being denied resources they desperately need.
We offer free, no-risk consultations to people in your exact situation. We will listen to your story, offer suggestions, and outline the next steps to help you and your family get your life back on track.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.