In car accident cases, insurance companies must determine fault so that they can decide who is responsible for paying the damages associated with the crash. Every state in the U.S. has its own method of apportioning fault after a car accident. New Jersey law uses a modified comparative negligence model to apportion responsibility after an accident which results in injuries, death and property damage.
What does that mean? If you play a role in the accident, your award will be reduced by the percentage at which you have been found to be at-fault. In a settlement, the insurance company is the entity which determines fault.
For example: say you were speeding when you were hit by another car. In this scenario, the other driver is mostly to blame, because he is the one who hit you. However, the insurance company finds that you are 10% responsible for the accident, because you were speeding. If you were going to be awarded $1,000 in damages, that total would be reduced by 10%, so you would be awarded $900, instead.
Under NJ’s law, you may only collect compensation if you are found to be up to 50% at fault. Therefore, even if you sustain critical injuries, you could be barred from recovery if the insurance company finds you to be 51% or more at-fault for the crash.
The process may sound simple, but it is not. Circumstances occur where it may be impossible to determine which driver is actually at fault for the car accident. There may also be times where the liable party is nowhere to be found.
An example of comparative negligence in a hit-and-run accident
The case of Mark R. Krzykalski v. David T. Tindall (A-55-16) (078744) looked into whether a jury should be asked to apportion fault between a known defendant and a known but unidentified defendant involved in a hit-and-run. In this particular case, the driver who caused the crash was never found.
The car accident occurred in Florence Township. Mark Krzykalski was traveling north in the left lane, and the defendant, David Tindall, was behind the plaintiff’s car. As the left-lane traffic proceeded through an intersection, a vehicle in the right lane, driven by “John Doe,” unexpectedly made a hard left turn, cutting off the cars to his left in the left lane. Mr. Krzykalski was able to stop his car in time to avoid hitting “John Doe’s” car, but Dave Tindall was unable to stop in time to avoid crashing into the rear end of Mr. Krzykalski’s vehicle.
Mr. Krzykalski was injured in the accident, and filed an uninsured (UM) motorist claim against his insurance company. He also sued Mr. Tindall and “John Doe” for negligence. The jury found Mr. Tindall 3% negligent, and “John Doe” 97% negligent, and awarded Mr. Krzykalski $107,890 in damages.
Why this lawsuit was necessary
Because Mr. Krzykalski and Mr. Tindall were victims of a hit-and-run, Mr. Krzykalski’s UM policy should have covered the damages. However, technically, Mr. Tindall did hit Mr. Krzykalski. Therefore, Mr. Krzykalski’s insurance company could have claimed it should not be responsible for covering the damages. The jury, by assigning levels of fault, ensured that Mr. Krzykalski could be paid out under his UM coverage (minus 3% from Mr. Tindall’s insurance, based on the jury’s decision).
As happened in the Krzykalski case, most hit-and-run drivers do get away. If your accident was caused by a hit-and-run driver, you will have to recover compensation from your own insurance company to cover your losses in the accident. New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state, so your insurance company will cover your medical expenses regardless of who caused the accident.
At the personal injury law firm of Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP, we have experience with representing car accident victims and their families. If you or a loved one was hurt in a car accident, you may contact our New Jersey car accident lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP at 732-777-0100. We have offices in Edison, Red Bank, or Toms River, New Jersey. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.