Partial Fault in an Accident: Comparative and Contributory Negligence




Partial Fault in an Accident: Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Negligence is the most common type of non-intentional tort and serves as the primary basis upon which liability is determined. Generally defined, negligence refers to the failure of an individual (or group of individuals) to exercise a reasonable standard of care toward others.

Determining Liability

There are times when determining fault in an accident is strictly a black-or-white issue, meaning one person/party is completely liable and the other is not. Sometimes multiple parties are at fault or two parties share fault in an accident.

Such instances require the application of contributory or comparative negligence laws. States are responsible for determining which negligence standard applies in personal injury cases.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence applies to situations where the individual bringing the claim is partially responsible for his/her own injury. Under contributory negligence law, if a party suffers injury due to his/her own partial negligence, that party is precluded from recovering any damages.

Example: If a speeding car hits a pedestrian who disobeyed a traffic law, the pedestrian would be prevented from recovering any damages since he/she is considered partially negligent.

A number of states have deemed this law unjust and have adopted an alternative standard of law called comparative negligence. Instead of preventing the injured party from recovering damages altogether, a complicated calculation is used to determine degree of responsibility, which simply reduces the amount of recoverable damages.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is also a standard applied to cases involving shared liability. However, unlike contributory negligence, a partially liable party may be eligible to recover a certain amount of damages. Negligence is such cases is often determined using percentages.

Example: In a car accident, where both party's negligence contributed to the incident, a court may determine that the defendant bears 70 percent of the negligence and the plaintiff bears the other 30 percent. If the plaintiff claims s/he suffered $10,000 in damages, s/he may be eligible to seek $7,000 in compensation under the comparative negligence standard.

It is necessary to note that some states only allow a party whose negligence is less than 50 percent to recover damages. In fact, not all states use comparative negligence laws since the calculations tend to be so problematic.

Contact a Contributory Negligence Lawyer

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence laws are complicated. If you have been injured in an accident but are unsure whether you are eligible to recover damages, speaking with a qualified attorney is the best way to understand your rights and protect your best interests. Please contact us for a free consultation with an experienced attorney by choosing your state below.

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