What if it's my fault? Fault and Compensation
Will it affect my compensation if the accident is my fault or partly my fault?
The answer is Yes. How exactly depends on the state in which you experience your injury. The information below is current as of the time of writing (January 2011). These rules may change, so remember to double-check!
States where both sides in an accident can get compensated:
In these states, you can get some compensation for your injuries as long as you weren't 100% at fault. The amount of compensation depends on how much at fault you were. If you were 10% at fault, your compensation gets reduced by 10%. If you were 40% at fault, your compensation gets reduced by 40%. If you were 80% at fault, your compensation is reduced by 80%, but you still get compensation, which is not the case in other states.
If you want to find out what it means to be 20% at fault, and how that is determined, see Relative Fault.
If you want to find out how much you can get compensated for a personal injury, see General Damages Formula.
An exampe is the famous case of Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants (also known as the "McDonald's coffee lawsuit"), where Stella Liebeck successfully sued McDonald's for making their coffee too hot and thus contributing to her injury. The court established that Liebeck was 20% at fault, while 80% of the fault was McDonald's. Therefore, the compensation of $200,000 that she was awarded was reduced by 20% to $160,000. Incidentally, the case took place in New Mexico.
States where only the less liable side can get compensation (most places):
In these states, you can get compensation only if you were less than 50% at fault for an accident. The compensation is still reduced by the amount of fault. So if you were 10% at fault, the compensation is reduced by 10%. However, if you are 60% at fault, you get no compensation. You also get no compensation if both parties were equally at fault in the accident (i.e. 50% at fault).
States that don't allow compensation of any liable party:
+ Washington, D.C.
In these states (and D.C.) you get no compensation if you were even the least bit at fault. This means that if you were even 5% at fault, you will get no compensation whatsoever. In practice, it can be pretty difficult to force an insurance company to pay in such a state.
For example, if you were slowing down to turn and got rear-ended, the other driver is clearly mostly at fault for the accident. However, if the other driver claims that your brake light was faulty and didn't come on, or that you hadn't turned on your blinker, the insurance company might see that as a sign that that you were either negligent in your maintenance of your car, or negligent in your driving, and claim that this negligence contributed to the accident.