Who’s at Fault?
Designations of Non-Parties at Fault
Generally, if you are in an auto accident in which another vehicle fails to drive with due care and collides with yours, it is assumed that the driver of that vehicle is the responsible party. In many cases, this is true. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume that you, the victim, are the plaintiff in a lawsuit to recover damages for your losses in the subject accident and the other party, the driver who caused the accident, is the defendant.
While a great many automobile accident cases involve just a plaintiff and a defendant, over the years, a trend has been occurring in which the defendant is attempting to displace some of his liability by designating persons or entities that are not named in the lawsuit as responsible non-parties. Colorado law provides for the designation of these non-parties in actions where the defendant gives notice that a person or entity, who is not named in the lawsuit, was wholly or partially at fault for the action which resulted in injury to persons or property. The defendant must provide the identity of these non-parties within approximately 90 days after the lawsuit has commenced.
These non-parties must be identified by name or the best identification possible – meaning that there may be, and are, John or Jane Doe non-parties. Additionally, the notice must also include a brief statement of the basis for belief that this non-party is at fault.
What does it mean when the defendant designates a non-party? In the event that your case goes to trial, the defendant may present evidence that the non-party was in some way responsible for the accident and therefore, is at fault to some degree. The judge or jury may then, in their discretion, apportion a percentage of fault or liability to that non-party. Because these non-parties are not named litigants to the lawsuit, they have no actual monetary responsibility even if a portion of the fault is determined to be theirs. For example, a jury may determine that a named defendant was 80% responsible for the accident and a designated non-party was 20% responsible. A jury then awards $100,000.00 for damages and losses incurred by the plaintiff. The result would be that the $100,000.00 jury award would be reduced by the 20% allocated to the non-party, making the defendant only have to pay $80,000.00.
In our experience, designated non-parties have come in many forms, including government entities for failing to maintain traffic signage; homeowners for foliage that has been alleged to have blocked a view of a traffic sign or intersection; or John Does in vehicles that were not identified at the scene who may have created a sudden emergency which contributed to the accident. In some instances, it may be necessary to formally bring a non-party into the suit as a named party if shown that their actions/ownership/control indeed contributed to the accident. In other instances, it is possible to have the non-party stricken for defendant’s failure to provide any evidence that the non-party is responsible or has fault in any way.
Be assured that our litigation team has plenty of experience with these types of designations and will determine the best course of action in dealing with any additional parties or non-parties who may or may not bear some responsibility for your injuries and damages.
The Sawaya Law Firm is Denver’s personal injury law firm. With over 40 years of experience and a compassionate team prepared to listen to your story, The Sawaya Law Firm is here to help. Contact us anytime.