Who is liable for a vehicle accident?

— Erick Tyson von Mueller

In Nevada, any party who is at fault for an accident can be held liable for the resulting damages.

Fault is tied to negligence. Broadly defined, negligence is the failure to act with due care in a particular situation.

In most cases, it may be determined that a single driver or otherwise involved party was negligent and therefore at-fault for an accident.

However, in some cases, more than one party involved in an accident may be responsible for some degree of the accident. Nevada uses a standard of comparative negligence to resolve these cases.

Using comparative negligence, each party to an accident may be responsible for causing a certain portion of the accident.

For example, if one driver was speeding, and another driver was speeding at a faster rate and also texting while driving, and an accident occurred, both drivers may share partial fault for the accident, but additional reckless driving behaviors could increase the percentage of fault of the second driver over the first.

In this example, the first driver going 10 mph over the speed limit but following all other rules of the road might only bear 10 percent of fault for the accident, while the second driver going 25 mph over the speed limit and texting might bear 90 percent of the blame.

In a personal injury claim, the court can diminish the total damages the courts award by a driver’s percentage of fault. If the total award was $20,000 and the plaintiff was 10 percent at fault, the plaintiff could only receive a maximum of $18,000. In Nevada’s version of comparative negligence, any driver more than 50 percent responsible for an accident loses the right to any compensation.

What does Nevada law spell out for comparative negligence in Las Vegas?

Pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes NRS 41.141 “When comparative negligence not bar to recovery; jury instructions; liability of multiple defendants.”, literally:

1. In any action to recover damages for death or injury to persons or for
injury to property in which comparative negligence is asserted as a defense,
the comparative negligence of the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s decedent does
not bar a recovery if that negligence was not greater than the negligence or
gross negligence of the parties to the action against whom recovery is sought.
2. In those cases, the judge shall instruct the jury that:
  (a) The plaintiff may not recover if the plaintiff’s comparative negligence
  or that of the plaintiff’s decedent is greater than the negligence of the
  defendant or the combined negligence of multiple defendants.
  (b) If the jury determines the plaintiff is entitled to recover, it shall
    (1) By general verdict the total amount of damages the plaintiff would be
    entitled to recover without regard to the plaintiff’s comparative
    negligence; and
    (2) A special verdict indicating the percentage of negligence attributable
    to each party remaining in the action.
3. If a defendant in such an action settles with the plaintiff before the entry
of judgment, the comparative negligence of that defendant and the amount of the
settlement must not thereafter be admitted into evidence nor considered by the
jury. The judge shall deduct the amount of the settlement from the net sum
otherwise recoverable by the plaintiff pursuant to the general and special
4. Where recovery is allowed against more than one defendant in such an action,
except as otherwise provided in subsection 5, each defendant is severally
liable to the plaintiff only for that portion of the judgment which represents
the percentage of negligence attributable to that defendant.
5. This section does not affect the joint and several liability, if any, of the
defendants in an action based upon:
  (a) Strict liability;
  (b) An intentional tort;
  (c) The emission, disposal or spillage of a toxic or hazardous substance;
  (d) The concerted acts of the defendants; or
  (e) An injury to any person or property resulting from a product which is
  manufactured, distributed, sold or used in this State.
6. As used in this section:
  (a) “Concerted acts of the defendants” does not include negligent acts
  committed by providers of health care while working together to provide
  treatment to a patient.
  (b) “Provider of health care” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 629.031.
(Added to NRS by 1973, 1722; A 1979, 1356; 1987, 1697; 1989, 72)

Definition of comparative negligence in Nevada

Nevada is a so-called modified comparative negligence state. In general, any party whose negligence contributed to causing an accident will be held financially liable for the damages in direct proportion to their overall percentage of the blame.

This means that even if you cause part of an accident, you will still be able to recover some of your damages.

However, if you are responsible for a majority (more than 50 percent) of the negligence that caused a single-vehicle or two-vehicle accident, you cannot recover any of your damages.

Similarly, if you are responsible for more negligence than the combined negligence of all other parties in an accident involving more than two parties (such as a multiple-vehicle accident or in a case also involving a manufacturer defect), you cannot recover any of your damages.

Proving negligence after an accident

You must be able to prove negligence to hold another party legally liable for your damages. Unfortunately, applying the negligence standard to accidents can sometimes be challenging.

While negligence is clear in some cases, such as when a driver runs a red light, in other cases it can be more difficult to prove. This is a good reason to get a qualified attorney by your side as soon as possible after a crash.

A skilled attorney will be able to begin an immediate investigation of your claim to determine the true cause of the accident and to obtain the evidence needed to prove it in court.

To establish negligence, your attorney will need to prove each of the following four required legal elements:

  • Duty — First, your attorney must prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care. Put simply, a duty is a legal obligation to look out for the well-being of another person. In Nevada, all drivers owe everyone else on the road a duty to operate their vehicle in a safe manner and to comply with all state and local highway rules and regulations.
  • Breach — Next, you will need to prove that the driver in question breached their duty of care. This means that you will need to be able to prove that the other driver did something unsafe, and that their actions fell short of what an ordinary, prudent driver would have done in similar circumstances.
  • Causation — Then, You will also need to prove that there is some level of causation between the defendant’s breach of their legal duties and your injuries. In other words, proving that another driver did something unsafe is not sufficient to prevail in an auto accident claim; the unsafe action must have, at least in part, contributed to your accident.
  • Damages — Finally, you will need to prove your damages. This is a very important step of the legal claims process that is often overlooked by victims. To maximize your compensation you will need to be able to sufficiently document all of your losses.

Multiple-vehicle accidents

The standard of comparative negligence has very important implications for multi-vehicle accidents, because often in such cases, more than one driver is at fault to some degree for the accident.

For example, imagine that a three-vehicle, rear-end chain-reaction collision occurred on South Las Vegas Boulevard.

You are driving in the vehicle in the very front of the line, and you sustained $20,000 in total damages in the crash.

Upon investigation, it is determined that the driver who was two cars behind you is at fault for 80 percent of the wreck, while the driver directly behind you is to blame for the remaining 20 percent. In this case, the driver who is at fault for 80 percent of the crash would be liable for $16,000 of your damages and the driver who was at fault for 20 percent of the crash would be liable for the remaining $4,000.

How does comparative negligence affect insurance claims?

This use of comparative negligence for determining fault extends not only to the courtroom but also into settlement negotiations with insurance companies.

Insurers will consider percentages of fault as they investigate accident claims and develop settlement offers for victims who have sustained losses.

In some cases, while the rules for determining fault in a car accident claim are clear, applying those rules is not always as clear. For example, a car accident claim may involve two drivers who were similarly reckless, a third-party fault element such as a manufacturer defect, or unsafe acts that aren’t necessarily illegal but may be socially stigmatizing.

In each case, the representation of the facts, the circumstances of the accident, and the likability of the people involved can all affect the ultimate determination of fault.

Clear accident documentation and strong legal representation can increase the likelihood that the truth of an accident will prevail in any settlement negotiation or trial.

Your accident attorney should be able to push for fairness in all investigations and ensure that all parties follow the letter of the law in determining fault and damages awarded.

Further reading:

How to build the case for compensation after an accident.

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Erick Tyson von Mueller profile image

Erick Tyson von Mueller

Erick is a researcher and life-long student of the arts. He graduated from university after studying intelligence and fell into the deep state. He has surfaced now and again to run a drive-through coffee shop (!), an award-winning live music venue in Austin, Texas (!), and a cement block factory in Uruguay (!), among other adventures in a life otherwise spent performing analysis. His speciality remains state security and the philosophy of the prison world.