A common misconception is that plaintiffs cannot pursue compensation in a personal injury case if they share any fault for their accident. While this may be true in some U.S. states, it isn’t in Nebraska. Because Nebraska relies on the theory of comparative negligence, you could be reimbursed for your accident-related damages-—even if you were determined to be up to 49% responsible for the incident. Negligence is a complicated concept for attorneys and claimants alike, so we’ve broken-down Nebraska’s comparative negligence laws to explain what they could mean for your personal injury case.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
Comparative negligence is a legal principle that allows a judge or jury to reduce a plaintiff’s recoverable damages from an accident based on the percentage of fault attributed to each party involved. There are two types of comparative negligence recognized in the United States: modified comparative negligence and pure comparative negligence.
Modified comparative negligence is principled in most U.S. states, including Nebraska. Nebraska follows the 50 percent bar rule of modified comparative negligence, meaning that any party in a personal injury case found to be at or over 50% at fault is barred from recovering any damages. This also means that any party found partially at fault for an incident may be compensated for their damages, so long as their negligence contributed less than 50% to the accident’s occurrence. In short, a 50/50 tie bars recovery.
Comparative Negligence Example #1
Imagine you’re driving home from work on a clear evening. You (vehicle 1) approach an intersection and stop at the red light, intending to make a right turn. There isn’t a sign indicating “no right turn on red,” and although you see a car approaching on your left, you also see their light turn yellow and determine they are far enough from the intersection to stop. You begin your right turn as the car to your left (vehicle 2) speeds up through the yellow light. Their car crashes into yours (vehicle 1), totaling both vehicles and injuring both drivers. You and the other driver blame each other and sue for damages.
When this case goes to trial in Nebraska, the judge or jury will compare the negligence of each party to assign the drivers a percentage of fault. If either driver is found to be at least 50% at fault for the accident, they are not entitled to recover damages.
Assume vehicle 2 was found to be 51% responsible for the accident, and you were found 49% responsible. Although the driver of vehicle 2 would be barred from recovering damages entirely, you would not be permitted to recover every damage you sued for either. Your recoverable damages would be reduced by your percentage of fault. In this case, by 49%. If you were suing for $100,000 in damages, $49,000 of those damages would not be recoverable based on your percentage of negligence.
Comparative Negligence Example #2
Comparative negligence principles also apply when the negligent actions of multiple parties contribute to an accident.
Imagine you are in the middle of three cars traveling in a lane of traffic when the first car stops abruptly for no apparent reason. You are able to stop safely because you maintained a safe distance. However, the car behind you was following too closely and was not able to stop and rear-ends your car. You may choose to sue both parties for your accident-related damages.
At trial, the judge or jury may determine that the driver in front of you was 20% responsible for the accident by stopping abruptly in a lane of travel for no reason, and the driver of the car behind you was 80% responsible for following your car at an unsafe distance.
The driver of the car in front would then be held 20% responsible for your non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. The driver of the car behind you would be 80% responsible for your non-economic damages. However, the drivers of both cars would share equal (50/50) responsibility for your economic damages, such as medical bills and vehicle repair costs.
Comparative negligence is undeniably confusing. If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, your right to recover damages may be impacted by Nebraska’s theory of comparative negligence. We recommend consulting an experienced personal injury claim lawyer to discuss how to best proceed with your personal injury case. To learn more about Dyer Law’s approach to personal injury law, visit https://dyer.law/practice-areas/personal-injury/ or call (402) 393-7529 for your free consultation.