Contract Negotiation

Contributory and comparative negligence are terms used to address the question of “Who was at fault?” Depending on the circumstances of a personal injury case, a party may be comparatively negligent or “contribute to an act of negligence.”

Understanding Contributory Negligence

In order to understand contributory negligence, first you must understand that a person has a duty to act like a reasonable person. If he or she does not act like a reasonable person and an injury happens, then the individual could be held partially or entirely responsible for his or her injuries – even if another person was somehow involved in the accident.

After a lawsuit is filed by an injured person, the defendant may file a claim of contributory negligence against the plaintiff. Basically, the defendant is saying that the plaintiff was responsible -– at least in part –- for his or her own injuries.

What Happens with a Successful Claim of Contributory Negligence?

If the defendant can prove the claim of contributory negligence, then it is possible that the plaintiff may not collect anything on a personal injury claim. The damages could also be reduced by a certain percentage that the court feels reflects the plaintiff’s degree of fault.

Understanding Comparative Negligence

Many states now recognize comparative negligence in personal injury lawsuits. Before, contributory negligence was the only consideration if the plaintiff had contributed to one's injuries in some way. This also meant that the person would not be able to receive compensation. This unfair, harsh application of contributory negligence has given way to a comparative negligence approach.

Pure vs. Modified Comparative Negligence

Under the pure comparative negligence approach, the plaintiff’s total damages are reduced in order to reflect his or her percentage of fault. For example, a plaintiff could be awarded $20,000 and found to be 20 percent responsible for his or her injuries. The damage award is reduced by $4,000, leaving the plaintiff with an award of $16,000.

Under the modified comparative negligence approach, which is most common today, the plaintiff will not receive a damage award if he or she is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for one's injuries.

Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

You may find that the defendant in your personal injury lawsuit is making a claim of contributory negligence against you. Your attorney can help you fight such a claim in favor of all of the compensation you deserve.