Understanding Partial Liability In Car Accident Law

In many branches of injury law, the concept of partial liability plays a critical role in how people arrive at settlements and even jury judgments. Partial liability is especially common when it comes to car accident cases. If you're preparing to file a claim, it's important to understand what partial liability is and how it may apply to your claim.

How Partial Liability Affects Outcomes

Suppose a car accident attorney submits a claim to a defendant's insurance provider. The car accident lawyer insists the defendant is entirely responsible for what happened. However, the insurer says the claimant played a role in what happened, too. The insurance provider then says the defendant is only 60% liable.

What does this mean? If the insurer gets its way, it means the claimant will only get 60% of the damages involved in the case. If the claimant had suffered $1 million in medical expenses, for example, the insurer's proposal would only cover $600,000.

Bear in mind, though, policy limits only apply if the damages after factoring in liability are lower than the limit. If someone owes $600,000 and their policy only covers $125,000, then the insurer pays the full $125,000. The claimant then may have to sue the defendant for the rest or accept that's all they can recover.

Liability Threshold

Notably, most states' laws require the defendant to bear the majority of liability for there to be any compensation. This means the defendant has to be at least 51% liable. Otherwise, they don't pay a nickel because the law says the defendant wasn't the main cause of what happened.

Not all states use this system, though. Ask a car accident attorney what the rules are where the accident happened.


Perhaps a car accident occurs in a heavy rainstorm. The defendant was driving 10 mph above the speed limit even though all other vehicles were slowing down. At the same time, the claimant was using a cell phone but operating their vehicle well below the speed limit to compensate for the bad weather.

Who is the more liable party here? Generally, a person shouldn't drive above the speed limit, and they especially shouldn't when the weather poses an additional hazard. On the flip side, using a cell phone is inherently distracted driving.

An insurer and a car accident lawyer will have to hash this question out to settle a case. If they can't reach a settlement, the claimant would have to sue and then a jury would be tasked with answering the question if the matter goes to trial.

Contact a law firm like the Grall Law Group to learn more.