In a classic, textbook example of a car accident caused by negligence, a careless driver crashes into the back of a car stopped at a stop sign. The blameless driver in the stopped car is injured, and files suit against the careless driver in order to recover compensation for damages. In such a case, it’s clear that the careless driver caused the accident and the damages through negligence, and a court will order them to compensate the injured person for medical costs, lost wages and other damages attributable to the accident.
However, many accidents are not so simple. What happens if you are injured in an accident in which you were partly at fault? What happens if multiple drivers were at fault?
Mississippi law deals with these questions through a type of legal theory known as comparative negligence. Under comparative negligence, a person who is injured in an accident can file a personal injury lawsuit and recover damages even if they were partly at fault for the accident. However, their recovery may be limited in proportion to their share of fault for the accident.
To illustrate how this might work, imagine an accident in which Dustin is driving southbound on a roadway when he wants to listen to something on his car stereo. He takes his eyes off the road and one hand off the wheel in order to scroll through the podcasts on his cellphone. Because he’s not looking where he’s going, he doesn’t notice until it’s too late that he has drifted into the oncoming lane. His car collides with a car driven by Lucas, who was driving over the speed limit in the northbound lane. Lucas is badly injured. He files suit against Dustin, seeking compensation for $100,000 in damages.
In the lawsuit, Lucas makes his case, and Dustin makes his defense. The court reviews the evidence and finds that both Dustin and Lucas contributed to the cause of the accident. The court assigns a percentage of fault to each of them, and finds that Dustin was 80% at fault because he was looking at his phone and Lucas was 20% at fault because he was speeding. Lucas can recover damages, but the court decides to reduce his recovery in proportion to his share of the fault. This means that what might have been an award of $100,000 is reduced by 20% to $80,000.
It’s important to note that, unlike some other states, Mississippi follows what lawyers call “pure comparative negligence.” This means, theoretically at least, the plaintiff can recover compensation from a negligent driver even if they were mostly at fault. If Dustin, in the example above, were injured and suffered $100,000, he could file suit against Lucas, and possibly recover compensation. However, the court would reduce his recovery in proportion to his share of the fault. Since he was 80% at fault, his recovery is reduced by 80%. Instead of $100,000, he can recover only $20,000.