Comparative Fault in KY & IN
What happens when you are in an accident that is determined to be partially your fault? Kentucky and Indiana have abrogated the legal doctrine of joint and several liability, in which each defendant is liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damages, no matter how minimal his contribution to the accident. Instead, both states have adopted what is known in the legal community as “comparative fault” tort systems, although both states vary substantially in how they apply their respective systems.
In Kentucky, joint tortfeasors are only liable for the portion of a judgment equal to their percentage of negligence, as determined by a jury or judge. This is known as “modified comparative fault”. Hence, if you are injured in a car wreck in Kentucky, even if a jury determines that you are 99% at fault for an accident, you will still be able to recover one percent of your damages.
Indiana has adopted a different version of “modified comparative fault” which follows the 51 percent rule. Stated simply, the 51 percent rule says that a plaintiff will recover nothing if he or she is found to be 51 percent or more at fault for an accident. However, the damaged party can still recover compensation if he or she is found to be 50 percent of less at fault, but that recovery is reduced by the plaintiff’s degree of fault, as determined by a judge or jury.
Applying the above to a Kentucky auto accident, let us suppose that you are distracted by texting on your cellular phone while driving through a busy four-way stop intersection and the driver of another vehicle is busy reaching for a drink that just spilled on their floorboard. Both of you fail to come to a stop at your respective stop signs and collide in the intersection. Who is at fault and how much can you collect from the other driver for damages to your vehicle and bodily injuries?
In a case like this, a jury is likely to find both drivers somewhat at fault. While we never know what happens in a jury deliberation room, suppose that the jury reaches the conclusion that you and the other driver are each 50 percent at fault for the accident. This means that you will only be able to recover 50% of the verdict reached in your favor.
Putting some numbers to the above example, let us imagine that you have $5,000.00 in damage to your vehicle and $10,000.00 in medical expenses related to your collision. After the apportionment is determined, you would only be able to collect $2,500.00 for your property damage claim and $5,000.00 in medical billing. Of course, the other driver would also be able to recover against you or your insurance company for 50 percent of their damages as well.
Indiana cases differ in that, as mentioned above, if you are found to be 51 percent or more at fault for an accident, you will be barred from collecting any amount of damages. Back to our four-way stop example, let’s say that an Indiana jury finds you 60 percent at fault for a collision. You will not be allowed to recover anything, no matter how badly you were injured. However, if you are found 50 percent or less responsible for an accident, your damages will be apportioned according to the percentage of fault that is placed on you by the jury.
While Kentucky’s tort system allows a plaintiff to recover damages no matter the amount of his or her fault (as long as it is less than 100 percent), Indiana law is not so forgiving. Should you find yourself injured in an accident, you should never admit fault. Contact an attorney immediately so that they can begin investigating your claim in order to determine if, perhaps, the other party or parties to an accident were at fault as well. Of course, the number one thing that you can do to avoid being at fault for an automobile collision is to drive attentively and follow all traffic laws. Drive safely.
Written by Attorney John M. Jones. John is licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.