Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Negligence Contributory vs. Comparative

In many car accidents there is more than one contributing factor to the accident. Maybe someone ran a red light, but they tried to stop, and the wet road conditions caused them to skid through the intersection. After a car accident an injured party has a right to file a claim or lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident or the insurance company who insures the driver. Different states deal with the concept of contributory or comparative negligence differently. Here are the most typical ways in the US:

  • Pure comparative negligence
  • Pure contributory negligence
  • The 50 percent rule or, modified comparative negligence
  • The 51 percent or modified comparative negligence

Who caused an accident is a question of fact that will be decided by the judge or jury. Whoever is found to be responsible for the accident will have to be paid for the damages suffered by any victims. If the negligent party is insured their insurance party will be liable for the damages up to the polices limits. When more than one party is responsible; if two cars run a stop sign at the same time for instance the laws of the state will dictate who is responsible and who has to pay for any damages suffered by the victims.

Negligence- Contributory

Common law has long had a contributory negligence defense that allows someone that was negligent to claim the other party contributed to the argument. The classic example of contributory negligence is when a car hits a motorcycle driver and the motorcyclists isn’t wearing a helmet. The negligent driver will claim that had the motorcyclist been wearing the injuries would have been less than they were because the motorcyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. The idea being that the person’s choice to not wear a helmet contributed to their damages.

Only five states have a pure contributory negligence statute that doesn’t allow someone who contributed to the accident to recover at all. In those states if the motorcyclists weren’t wearing a helmet and they would not be able to recover for any of their damages. The states that have the strictest comparative negligence statutes are: Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, District of Columbia, and Maryland. Most states have determined this is unfair to victims and have move to a more comparative negligence system.

Negligence- Comparative

In comparative negligence even if an injured party was comparatively negligent they can still recover at least a portion of their damages. How it works is they reduce the amount the person can recover based on how liable the injured party is. In essence, the reduce the available compensation by the percentage that the judge or jury finds them negligence.

Typically states that use a comparative negligence process have three different ways of reducing the compensation:

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  • Comparative Negligence

In straight comparative negligence states, the judge or jury will assign an amount or negligence or guilt for each party. So, let’s say someone is found to be 95% liable and the injured party is found to be 5% negligent the injured party will only be able to recover 95% of their damage claim. for an accident the victim of that accident

  • 50 Percent Rule

In a 50 percent system any party that is 50 percent or more responsible for the accident is barred from recovery.

  • 51 Percent rule

In a 51 percent any party that 51 percent or more responsible for the accident is barred from recovery.

How to Hire a Lawyer after a Car Accident

However, states laws about comparative and contributory negligence are always evolving and changing so the only way to really know the strength of your claim is to schedule a consultation with an experienced accident attorney in your area.

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