If you've been injured in an accident, then you might think that you have a case to claim for personal injury damages. While you can bring a lawsuit against a business or individual who you believe was to blame for what happened, this doesn't automatically mean that you will get the damages you expect.

Even if you win your case, your award might be reduced under comparative negligence laws. What is comparative negligence and how does it affect personal injury claims?

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence measures blame in an accident or incident. Lawyers use this measure to determine exactly who directly contributed to making the accident or incident happen in the first place.

In some cases, there is no case for comparative negligence. For example, say someone drops a bottle of cooking oil in a grocery store. The bottle breaks and some oil ends up on the floor. The store knows about the spill but hasn't cleaned it up yet. They haven't put out a warning sign or tape that tells you not to walk in that area.

You don't see the oil. You walk across it and slip and fall. In this case, a lawyer would find it hard to prove that you played any part in causing the accident.

However, if the store puts a sign or tape around the spill, and you ignore these warnings, then you might be partly responsible for the accident. The store gave you a heads-up to protect you, and you might not have injured yourself if you had paid attention.  

Here, you share some of the blame for what happened. In comparative negligence terms, lawyers would then argue how to allocate blame in a percentage split.

How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Damages?

If a lawyer can use comparative negligence to show that you were partly responsible for the accident or incident, then they reduce the amount of money an insurance company has to pay. You receive less money than you would if you had no provable fault.

For example, if a court decides that you were 20% responsible for an accident, then this percentage comes off your final award. So, this measure might affect your ultimate pay-out. 

The rules for comparative negligence vary from state to state. Some states use a modified system which requires your amount of blame to fall under a certain percentage. To find out more about the rules in your area and your chances of success, contact a local personal injury attorney.