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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

What Is the Last Clear Chance Doctrine in Personal Injury Law?

In many states across the US, cases dealing with personal injury law follows contributory negligence rules, in which both parties are assigned a share of the blame for the accident. This means that, by not exercising reasonable care, the victim's own negligence will affect the amount of damages they can seek from the negligent defendant.


Nashville, TN courts follow modified comparative negligence rules, which makes personal injury cases a lot more complicated when it comes to determining fault and deciding what constitutes fair compensation. It is not only the defendant's negligence that is considered, as both parties had a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care to avoid the accident.


To further complicate things is the use of the last clear chance doctrine. This means regardless of the extent of the plaintiff's injuries, a lot still needs to be done before they can walk away with the compensation they deserve.


A good attorney would make the legal process easier, which is why victims should call Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys, and request a free consultation. They can also help explain contributory vs comparative negligence.


What Is the Last Clear Chance Doctrine?

What Is the Last Clear Chance Doctrine?


Some states follow pure contributory negligence rules, which are regarded by many as being too harsh on the plaintiff seeking compensation. As such, some of these contributory negligence states also follow the last clear chance doctrine.


In general, the last clear chance doctrine makes it easier for plaintiffs to recover damages in a personal injury case in which their own negligence is a key factor.


It states that even if the plaintiff was responsible for some of the negligent behavior that caused their own harm, the defendant can still be liable for damages if they had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.


This may sound very complicated for most victims who just want to be compensated for the injuries they have sustained. However, an experienced attorney can help clear things up and explain how the last clear chance doctrine works in a personal injury lawsuit.


It is also important for victims to remember that without the last clear chance doctrine, in contributory negligence states, even being found 1% responsible for the accident would deny the helpless plaintiff any chance to receive compensation.


As such, when using this doctrine, simply proving that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care when they had the last clear chance to avoid the accident will be enough to win the personal injury claim.


Contributory Negligence Laws Vs. Comparative Negligence Laws


Before going further, it is important to understand the distinction between contributory negligence rules and comparative negligence rules because these laws are what led to some states adopting the last clear chance doctrine.


Contributory Negligence Rule


Under the contributory negligence rule, if a plaintiff is found to have partially caused the accident, and, therefore, partly to blame for the injuries they sustained, the plaintiff cannot recover damages from the defendant, even if it is clear that the defendant knew about, or could have prevented, the dangerous situation.


Only a few states in the US still adopt contributory negligence rules as they are deemed too harsh on the plaintiff. This is why many states either adopted the last clear chance doctrine as an amendment to the contributory negligence rules or switched entirely to pure comparative negligence laws.


Comparative Negligence Rule


With comparative negligence, on the other hand, the injured plaintiff can still be able to recover damages even if they are deemed to be partially at fault for the accident.


In such personal injury cases, the defendant can claim that the plaintiff was at fault for the car accident, after which the jury will decide what percentage of blame to assign to the plaintiff. This will determine the amount of compensation the plaintiff will receive.


How Does the Last Clear Chance Rule Work?


When a plaintiff has been injured as a result of the defendant's negligence, they are entitled to receive fair compensation from the at-fault party.


However, in states that follow contributory negligence rules, the defendant has the right to raise a contributory negligence defense by claiming that the plaintiff shares a part of the blame for the accident.


The only way to resolve this and assign responsibility for the accident is to apply the last clear chance doctrine.


This means the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident, and must pay damages to the injured victims.


Under the last clear chance doctrine, to receive compensation, the plaintiff must prove the following:

  • There was an immediate threat of injury to the plaintiff

  • The defendant was (or should have been) aware of the dangerous situation, and had the last clear chance to avoid it

  • A reasonable prudent person would have acted to avoid the accident

  • The defendant did not exercise reasonable prudence due to their failure to act when they had the last clear chance to avoid injuring the plaintiff

Only by successfully proving that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident, and is therefore primarily responsible for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, will the victims be entitled to receive compensation.


The Negligent Plaintiff Has the Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case


When the last clear chance doctrine is applied to a personal injury case, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. They have to show that fault for the accident lies with the defendant because it is they who had the last clear chance to avoid injuring the plaintiff.


Difficulties With the Burden of Proof Under the Last Clear Chance Doctrine


Approaching a personal injury lawsuit that deals with the last clear chance doctrine is not easy for the plaintiff. They have to show the jury exactly how the accident unfolded so that they can take their side in the case. This usually requires proving what the defendant could have done in the last moments before to accident to avoid injuring the plaintiff.


Usually, the only way to win such cases is with the help of an experienced attorney. However, as difficult as the last clear chance rule may seem, it still offers the victim a better chance to receive fair compensation than contributory negligence rules. It is as close to pure comparative negligence laws as plaintiffs in contributory negligence states will get.


Comparative Negligence Rules Vs. Last Clear Chance Doctrines


Although both comparative negligence and the last clear chance rule seek to rectify the harshness of contributory negligence on the plaintiff, they are not entirely the same.


Comparative negligence simply acknowledges that both parties contributed to the accident and are partly responsible for the injuries sustained by the victim.


The last clear chance rule, however, assigns blame to whoever had the last clear chance opportunity to avoid the accident.


In a way, this makes the burden of proof a lot more difficult in personal injury cases in which the last clear chance rule is being applied. This is why having serious injury attorneys is the best way for victims to receive fair compensation in such lawsuits.


Variations to the Last Clear Chance Doctrine


In states that apply the last clear chance doctrine, four common variations to the rule exist, and these are:

  • If the defendant knew what was about to occur, but failed to prevent it, and the plaintiff was helpless to avoid being injured, the negligent defendant is always held liable

  • When both the defendant and the plaintiff were inattentive, the last clear chance rule does not apply, and the defendant is not liable

  • If the defendant was observant, while the plaintiff was inattentive, the defendant is usually at fault

  • In cases where the defendant was inattentive, and the plaintiff was helpless, the defendant is usually held liable


Steps to Take When Filing Personal Injury Claims


In such cases, where the burden of proof plays such an important role in determining whether or not the victim will receive compensation, every step the plaintiff takes is very important.


When involved in an accident caused by someone else's negligence, the plaintiff must:

  • Seek medical attention

  • Gather important evidence from the scene, such as pictures of the accident

  • Get the details and a statement from any witnesses to the accident

  • Call an experienced personal injury lawyer


How Can Personal Injury Lawyer Help Victims Recover Damages?

How Can Personal Injury Lawyer Help Victims Recover Damages?


Personal injury law is complicated enough without the added weight of the burden of proof that the last clear chance rule brings. A lawyer can help victims understand the implications of the last clear chance rule on their personal injury claim, and decide the best way to receive maximum compensation. They can also answer questions like What is ime in a personal injury claim?


Help Is Available for Victims in Personal Injury Cases


Sometimes, victims will receive a good offer for compensation from the insurance company before having to go to court, but sometimes, the case will have to go in front of a jury.


In such cases, the plaintiff will only recover damages if the jury finds that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.


Winning such cases is not easy, and victims will need expert legal advice from an experienced and compassionate personal injury attorney. By calling Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys, victims will get an attorney who is ready to go to war for their rights.

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