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What is fault?

At the center of every motor vehicle accident is this question of fault. Who is at fault? Who is liable? Where does the fault lie? Fault – in a very basic sense – is the legal responsibility for an accident. In Wisconsin, fault is a complicated topic because we have what is known as a modified comparative fault system.

How does modified comparative fault work?

Comparative fault is the theory that more than one driver can be partly at fault for an accident. In a “pure comparative fault” system, a driver 90% at fault may still receive some compensation for their injuries, although the court would reduce that award by 10%.

A modified comparative fault caps the “recoverability” of damages. In Wisconsin, anyone found 51% or more at fault for an accident cannot recover damages.

How do courts calculate how much a person is at fault?

Essentially, the percentage of fault is settled before the judge. It is an adversarial system where both sides argue for a smaller share of the fault in the accident. The court will look at:

  • Each driver’s actions
  • Any laws broken
  • The state of the vehicle
  • The state of the roads
  • The weather

Any contributing factor to the accident deserves some investigation. Then it comes down to the judge to decide the attribution of fault.

What are damages?

Damages in a personal injury or motor vehicle accident help a person “recover.” In this way, the law attempts to find a number that will let you get back to the state you were before an accident.

In many ways, this number is easily calculable. It will include:

  • Medical bills
  • Repayment for missed time at work
  • Reimbursement for property damage

However, if you suffer damage that isn’t so easily calculated, such as emotional distress or other suffering, you may be able to pursue further damages.

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