This is the next post in our series on the handling of wrongful death cases in Minnesota. Our last article discussed calculating damages after a wrongful death case. It is important to understand that surviving family members are entitled to compensation for multiple forms of damages. We strongly recommend that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney to assist you in understanding the types and amount of compensation to which you may be entitled. In this article we will discuss another important topic – how comparative fault impacts such cases. If you have questions, you can contact our office today to speak with a Rochester lawyer. We also handle matters in Owatonna and elsewhere.
Minnesota, like many other states, has adopted the concept of “comparative fault.” This principle is sometimes referred to as “comparative liability” or “comparative negligence.” Comparative fault allows a victim to be compensated for his or her injuries even when partially responsible for the accident.* If, for example, the jury finds that the victim was 10% at fault and the defendant was 90% responsible, the victim would receive 90% of their proven damages. In this example, a victim who suffered $100,000 in injuries would receive $90,000 (90% x $100,000). If a deceased person is found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident, however, surviving next of kin are not entitled to any compensation in Minnesota. It is the role of a jury to determine the percentage of fault of each party in an accident.
While it may be that a jury determines the deceased person was not at all at fault for the accident, it may also happen that a family’s damages award will be reduced because the jury decides the deceased was partially at fault. Again, the jury describes the amount of fault as a percentage, and any percentage of fault attributed to the deceased reduces compensation by that degree. Say the deceased was hit by a car while in a crosswalk that had a “do not cross” light flashing. Crossing under such circumstances would be negligent conduct on the part of the deceased. If the driver who hit the victim was talking on the phone while driving while simultaneously adjusting his radio and ran a red light as a result of not paying attention, the driver would be substantially responsible for causing the accident. While a jury would likely find the victim somewhat responsible for the accident, the likelihood is that jurors would assign a greater portion of responsibility to the defendant. The victim’s surviving family members in such a case would be entitled to compensation, with the award reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault. It is important to understand that how the jury rules in any given situation will always be fact specific.
Disputes over who was at fault can make these types of cases difficult to settle. It is crucial that you retain a personal injury attorney experienced in handling such matters. Our Rochester wrongful death lawyers have recovered more than $125 million on behalf of injury victims and survivors and we are ready to assist you. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.
We also serve SE Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”