Understanding Comparative Fault

Sometimes confused with the delicious cake called a “torte,” a “tort” is a broad legal term for a wrongful act that causes injury. Negligence is one of the main types of torts and includes areas such as traffic accidents, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and slips or falls. A key part of any tort action revolves around fault, and the method for assigning responsibility varies from state to state under four basic doctrines:

  1. Pure contributory fault/negligence
  2. Pure comparative fault
  3. Modified comparative fault
  4. Slight/gross comparative fault (only used in South Dakota).


Only a handful of states are contributory negligence jurisdictions, which bar plaintiffs from recovering any damages if their negligence contributed at all to the accident. Although there are some exceptions, the general rule is that a damaged party cannot recover any compensation if it is even one percent at fault.

On the other end of the spectrum is the pure comparative fault rule, which allows an injured party to recover damages even if they are 99 percent at fault. The key is that the recovery is reduced by that degree of fault. There are 12 pure comparative fault jurisdictions, including Florida, Louisiana, California, New York, and Kentucky.

The rest of the states follow a modified rule that compares the fault of the parties, but draws a line at how much they can share and reduces recovery according to the amount. Some comparative negligence states allow a plaintiff that is 50 percent at fault to recover while others bar recovery because the fault is equal. Still others draw the line at 51 percent on the principle that a plaintiff who is more at fault than a defendant should not be compensated.

Here in Kentucky, the court in a personal injury action will assign percentages of fault among all the parties and apportion the damage award accordingly. State law says that “In determining the percentages of fault, the trier of fact shall consider both the nature of the conduct of each party at fault and the extent of the causal relation between the conduct and the damages claimed.” For example, a person who was injured in a car wreck on Bypass Road and is found by the court to be 60 percent at fault for the accident can recover 40 percent of his damages. That means if it is determined that the damaged party suffered $10,000 worth of loss, the award would be reduced to $4,000.

Allocating fault is not easy and involves understanding the roles that the parties played in the tort as well as who started the chain of events (proximate cause). If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the personal injury attorneys at the Johnson Law Firm. We have years of experience helping folks just like you. Our knowledgeable legal team will work closely with you every step of the way and will fight hard to get you the compensation you deserve. Based in Pikeville, KY, we proudly serve communities throughout the Bluegrass State. Contact us by calling 606-437-4488 or filling out our online form.

Attorney Billy Johnson

William “Billy” Johnson grew up in the Dorton area of Pike County, Kentucky, and early on decided to stay in the beautiful Appalachian mountains. Like many others in Eastern Kentucky, Billy’s dad worked as a coal miner, a hard job but one that taught his son how to meet challenges head on and persevere. Attorney Billy Johnson has years of experience helping injured clients with claims such as car, truck, and motorcycle accidents, wrongful deaths, work injuries, and more. [ Attorney Bio ]

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