What is the “Last Clear Chance” Rule in Personal Injury Law?


When there is a car accident, sometimes it is totally the fault of one driver. Other times, both drivers are at fault. In any lawsuit where someone seeks compensation for injuries they received in an accident, it’s important to find out who was at fault.

What Happens if an Accident Was Partially Your Fault?

Even if you were partially at fault, you may still be able to get compensation for your injuries. The laws that apply to this situation vary a lot from state to state. In some states, you can get compensation for your injuries, but the payment will be reduced according to how much you were at fault. Other states are harsher and say that if you were even a little bit at fault, you can’t recover any damages at all.

But some of the states with the harshest rules do allow an exception, called the “last clear chance rule” (sometimes called the “last clear chance doctrine”). This rule says that if the other driver had the last opportunity to avoid the accident, then you can recover damages even if the accident was partially your fault.

Because the law varies so much from one state to another, you should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer in your state to find out how the law applies to you.

A Closer Look at the Different Ways of Evaluating Fault in Accidents

There are two basic ways that the law deals with compensation for vehicle accidents where both drivers are at fault. These are called “comparative negligence” and “contributory negligence.”

Comparative Negligence

In states that use the comparative negligence rule to evaluate damages, drivers who are partially at fault can be compensated for their injuries. The amount they receive will be reduced in proportion to their fault.

For example, say you were in a car accident and a jury finds that the accident was 30% your fault and 70% the responsibility of the other driver. If the jury finds that your damages were $100,000, that payment would be reduced by 30%, the amount that the accident was your fault, and you would receive $100,000 minus $30,000, for a total of $70,000.

Comparative-negligence states don’t use the last clear chance rule.

Contributory Negligence

States that use the contributory negligence rule make it harder for plaintiffs — the people suing for damages for their injuries — to get compensation in accidents where both sides are at fault. With this rule, if the plaintiff was at all negligent, even the slightest bit, and if that negligence contributed to the accident, then the plaintiff can’t get any compensation at all. The plaintiff gets nothing even though the defendant — the other person involved in the accident — was negligent too. If there was more than one defendant and if all of them were at fault, the plaintiff would still not get paid any damages at all as long as he or she contributed in any tiny way to the accident.

Judges thought that this rule was unfair. They believed that, in certain circumstances, people injured in accidents where the other driver was partially at fault should get some compensation, rather than get nothing at all. So these judges created an exception to the rule of contributory negligence to make the law less harsh. That exception is the last clear chance rule.

What is the Last Clear Chance Rule?

The way the last clear chance rule works is if a plaintiff is negligent and partially caused an accident, the plaintiff can still get compensation for his or her injuries if the other driver (the defendant) could have avoided the accident by being reasonably careful. The plaintiff has to prove that the defendant had the last chance to avoid the accident.

For example, say you run a stop sign. Another driver is approaching the intersection, sees your car, and has plenty of time to stop and avoid hitting you. But the driver is distracted by an emotional phone call and doesn’t stop. You are unable to avoid the oncoming car, and it crashes into your car.

Both you and the other driver are at fault. But if the other driver had the last opportunity to avoid the accident, then you will still be entitled to compensation because of the last clear chance doctrine.

How Do You Prove the Other Driver Had the Last Chance to Avoid an Accident?

Generally, to use the last chance rule, you and your lawyers have to prove five things:

  1. You put yourself into a dangerous situation because of your own negligence.
  2. Once you were in that dangerous situation, you weren’t able to avoid the accident.
  3. The defendant knew about the danger and could have avoided the accident by using reasonable care.
  4. The defendant did not use reasonable care and did not avoid the accident.
  5. Because the defendant did not avoid the accident, you were injured.

If you are in a state that uses the last chance rule, you should consult a personal injury attorney in your state who has experience with last chance cases.

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident on the road, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses caused by the accident. An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process and make sure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to getting all the compensation the law allows.

The experienced trial lawyers at Raynes & Lawn would be glad to talk to you about what happened, evaluate your case, and discuss ways that we might help. Be aware that you only have a limited amount of time to file personal injury claims, so contact us as soon as possible to find out what your next step should be. Just fill out the online form, and we will be in touch.

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