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What happens when a plaintiff is partly at fault for an injury?

When tragedy strikes West Virginia residents because of someone else's actions, it is important to hold that person accountable for their conduct. This is particularly true when the incident has resulted in a loss of life.

Last week, this blog discussed how surviving family members can bring a wrongful death action when someone else's negligence caused the death of a loved one. However, while there are different kinds of damages that may be available through a wrongful death action, these damages could be affected if there are allegations of negligence against both sides.

West Virginia, like other states, has certain laws regarding comparative negligence, known as comparative fault in West Virginia. Comparative fault is a legal principle that essentially means the jury will be able to consider the fault of all persons involved in the incident in question. For example, in a car accident, one party might have been speeding, while the other failed to yield. The jury could assess the percentage of fault that should be apportioned to each party as it determines what caused the crash.

In some cases, multiple persons might have contributed in one way or another to the incident. This may include not only the parties to the lawsuit, but others who are not a party as well.

Typically, contributory negligence and comparative fault does not necessarily bar recovery of compensation. Instead, the recovery of damages will usually be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assessed to that party. For example, if the plaintiff was 20 percent at fault, then his or her damages would be reduced by that proportion.

Ultimately, comparative fault is just one of many different issues that can arise in a wrongful death or negligence action. Individuals who have suffered harm should understand how these principles could impact their case and what strategies exist for approaching these issues.

Source: West Virginia Legislature, "West Virginia Code," accessed on Oct. 1, 2016

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