In New York, liability for injuries in an auto accident is governed by the principles of comparative negligence. Originally, most states had a system called contributory negligence. In contributory negligence, if an injured party was in any way at fault in the accident then that party would be precluded from collecting damages. This applied to a fatal accident as well as to a minor one.
The harshness of contributory negligence meant, for example, that if a person was killed in an accident and was even 1 percent negligent in causing it, then that person’s estate would not be able to collect any damages. This caused injustices in many instances, and led to modern-day comparative negligence statutes. Today, there are various types of these laws that apply from state to state.
In New York, there is a comparative negligence rule that allows an injured person to collect even if she was, for example, 90 percent at fault. In that example, she would be entitled to collect the value of ten percent of her injuries. In some states, however, the injured party must have less than half of the fault in order to collect. A person who is 55 percent at fault, therefore, would be unable to collect anything for personal injury tort damages.
One other rule should be kept in mind: a passenger in a vehicle is usually entitled to collect the full value of his or her damages regardless of the fault of the driver or drivers involved. These rules were partially applicable with respect to a recent fatal accident in western New York, where an 80-year-old man failed to yield the right-of-way and was hit by a car driven by a 43-year-woman from Attica, according to police reports. The man was pronounced dead at a hospital, and his passenger — a 70-year-old — was seriously injured. If the police reports prove to be accurate, then the injured passenger will have a tort claim for personal injuries against the estate of the at-fault decedent.
Source: The Miami Herald, “Florida man killed in crash in western New York”, , June 20, 2014