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Comparative negligence under Illinois law

Many Illinois residents know that if they are injured through someone else's negligence, the injured may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses and other damages. In many cases, this concept is relatively straightforward. For instance, if a drunk driver runs a stop sign and collides with a sober driver who had the right of way, it's highly likely that a court will find the drunk driver liable for the sober driver's damages. But what if both drivers shared some part of the fault for the accident? This question raises a complex issue known as comparative negligence.

For instance, if a minivan driver takes an illegal left turn and is struck by a sports car that is speeding down the street, the minivan driver contributed to the fault for the accident, but was not entirely responsible for it.

In the past, courts tended to deny any right to recovery if the injured shared any part of the blame for the accident. They might have looked at the scenario in the above paragraph and decided that the minivan driver was out of luck.

Over time, courts and legislatures decided that this harsh rule led to unfair results, and so they came up with the concept of comparative negligence. This concept allows the injured to receive compensation for their damages even when they share some of the fault for the accident. Today, most states have some form of comparative negligence in their laws.

In Illinois, the comparative negligence law provides that the court must apportion fault for the accident, assigning a percentage to each party in the lawsuit. If the injured was less than 50 percent responsible for the accident, the injured may recover compensation, but the recovery is reduced by the injured party's percentage of fault. For example, if the minivan driver was 25 percent at fault in the accident, the minivan driver could recover compensation, but that compensation would be reduced by 25 percent.

Source: Illinois Department of Insurance, "Comparative Negligence," accessed Sept. 12, 2014

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