Comparative negligence is a legal defense used in civil cases to reduce the amount of potential damages a defendant could be ordered to pay. The crux of the argument is that the plaintiff — the person who files the lawsuit against the defendant — would not have incurred a tort or personal damages had they not been partially negligent themselves.
For parties that have been injured, comparative negligence can quickly take away much of the compensatory damages they would have been awarded. This money could have helped pay for medical care and other losses. Understanding how defenses use comparative negligence is instrumental to presenting the full facts of the case and retrieve every penny the plaintiff deserves.
Barbara's Busted Leg
Barbara works at Frank's Florists, which runs a popular flower delivery service. In the back of the building is a narrow alley connected to the parking lot. Since delivery drivers using the alley often have low visibility when turning the preceding corner, employees are instructed, with verbal warnings and handwritten posted warning signs on the rear door, to avoid the alley area. Employees are expected to exit on the building's side and walk around the front should they need to reach the parking lot.
One day, Barbara realizes that she has left her cell phone in her car. Since she is expecting an important call, she runs out the back exit to reach the parking lot. A delivery truck hits her. The impact breaks her femur so severely that her doctor says she may never regain full functionality.
Barbara sues Frank's Florists, alleging that the company created unsafe conditions that placed an unreasonable burden on employees to maintain their own safety. She further alleges that delivery drivers had been encouraged to drive recklessly in order to hasten order fulfillment times, and this, coupled with the expectation that no one would enter the alley, leads to negligent attitudes.
Frank's Florists responds that although their practices may have been negligent in some way, Barbara's decision to ignore warnings both verbal and posted meant that she shared comparative negligence. The jury must then decide how much Barbara's own free will contributed to her injury and the subsequent damages.
Comparative Negligence and Burden of Proof
One complicating factor about cases like Barbara's is that the burden of proof for asserting comparative negligence lies upon the defendant. Frank's Flowers must prove with a preponderance of evidence that Barbara deliberately ignored the warning signs knowing full well the potential consequences.
Although meeting the burden of proof is not always easy, comparative negligence defenses have been responsible for stripping plaintiffs of their expected court-ordered award. If you are filing or have filed a civil suit, and have reason to believe that comparative negligence arguments could be used against you, we suggest you seek out professional representation from an experienced civil attorney now.
Koberlein Law Offices provides representation for injury and negligence cases that require strategies for countering comparative negligence claims. Our law offices in Gainesville and Lake City can provide legal services to claimants in the North Florida area. Contact us today.