Understanding comparative fault: a practical example

| Dec 14, 2020 | Motor Vehicle Accidents |

When residents of Baton Rouge hear about a traffic accident, they often ask who was at fault, expecting a clear, unambiguous answer. Unhappily, that question is not always easily answered, especially if more than one person was at fault. In 1979, the Louisiana legislature passed a statute bringing comparative fault to the state. Under the comparative fault statute, the jury is required to allocate fault among all parties who may have been negligent. After the jury finishes its allocation, the trial judge will enter an order that specifies who pays and who wins damages. A recent motorcycle accident in northern Ascension Parish provides a practical example of how the law works.

The accident

A man riding a Kawasaki motorcycle was headed north on Airline Highway while a man driving a Ford F150 was heading south. The driver of the pickup truck decided to make a left turn, but he failed to yield the right-of-way to the motorcycle. The motorcycle hit the passenger side of the pickup cab, and the rider was pronounced dead at the scene. The state police officers who viewed the accident scene had no ready explanation for the pickup’s driver’s failure to yield to the motorcycle. The state police said it had ordered toxicology tests on both drivers to determine if either or both may have been driving while intoxicated.

How does comparative fault fit in?

Most people would read the foregoing description of the accident and likely conclude that the truck driver was negligent in failing to yield to the motorcycle. However, what if the motorcycle driver was violating the speed limit just before the collision? Or what if the motorcycle’s brakes failed? Or what if the motorcyclist had been intoxicate? In any of these “what if” scenarios, a jury could easily conclude that the motorcycle rider deserves a significant share of the fault, perhaps more than 50%. In such a case, the motorcyclist’s family would be barred from any recovery by the comparative fault statute.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a multiple vehicle accident, the assistance of a capable motorcycle accident attorney may be essential. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate the evidence and provide an estimate of the respective percentages of fault that the jury is likely to assign and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages.