It is hard enough getting full value for your auto accident claims from insurance companies when everyone agrees that you were blameless for your injuries. It gets even harder when you are partially at fault for the accident (or perhaps not in any way at fault, but facing an allegation that you deserve part blame).

In Georgia, a plaintiff cannot collect for her personal injuries when she is at least 50 percent at fault. This is known as “comparative negligence,” because the parties’ amount of negligence is compared.

As long as you are 49.99 percent or less in the wrong, you can collect. This is true even if there are multiple other tortfeasors (aka, negligent parties), and no one of which is more at fault than you are for the accident. You just need to be less than 50 percent at fault to be able to collect.

The problem however is the parties are unlikely to agree in which percentage, if any, you are at fault. A determination as to percentage of fault is ultimately a jury issue, so the percentage of fault argument before trial is simply an element of negotiation, particularly at mediation. That being said, if the insurance company thinks a jury will find you at least 50 percent at fault, they will possibly make a “zero offer” settlement and take the case to trial.

Once a jury determines the percentages of fault and the total amount of damages, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by her percent fault (assuming it is not at least 50 percent, in which case she will collect nothing).

While of course a case with disputed liability can still settle, it is harder to settle than a typical clear fault rear end collision. The reason is simple. In a clear fault case, the only issue of dispute is the amount of damages. In a disputed liability case, the amount of damages is still an issue but so is the percentage of reduction for comparative negligence.

By Peter Bricks