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What is Contributory and Comparative Negligence

What is contributory and comparative negligence? How do contributory and comparative negligence apply to a personal injury case? If you are the injured party in a personal injury case, contributory and comparative negligence may mean a great deal to you.

Negligence is the basis for most personal injury cases. From a legal standpoint, negligence is failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or it is taking action which such a reasonable person would not take.


Negligence is regarded as being accidental. As such, it is distinguished from what are known as “intentional torts”. These are things that are done intentionally, such as assault, trespass or from crimes. However, a crime can also constitute negligence, such is the case with reckless driving.

When a personal injury claim is made on the basis of negligence, the injured party who is making the claim has to prove that the party who is alleged to have been negligent had a duty to the injured party. It has to be proven that the party’s action or failure to act was not what a reasonably prudent person would have done, and that the injuries suffered by the injured party were the result of negligence.

What is the difference

With this in mind, what is contributory and comparative negligence? What is the difference between contributory and comparative negligence?

Contributory negligence is a doctrine of common law that says if a person was injured in part due to their own negligence, the injured party would not be allowed to collect any money (damages) from another party who supposedly was responsible for the accident. Under contributory negligence, a person who may have been severely injured, but was slightly negligent, could not win any damages in court against a person who was extremely negligent.

Rule of law

On the other hand, comparative negligence is a rule of law that is applied in personal injury accident cases for the purpose of determining responsibility and damages that are based on the negligence of every party that is directly involved in an accident. Under comparative negligence, an injured party can still receive damages even though they may have been negligent to some degree. The degree of their negligence will determine how much the damages that they receive are reduced.

To illustrate this, a man starts walking across the street without checking for approaching traffic and ignoring a “do not walk” sign. A lady driving 60 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone hit’s the man resulting in serious injuries to the man. Will the man receive damages for his injuries?

Degree of responsibility

Under contributory negligence, the man would receive nothing because he has some degree of responsibility for the accident. Let’s say his responsibility is determined to be 10%, while the lady who was speeding is determined to be 90% responsible for the accident.

Because contributory negligence is often seen as being so unfair, in states where it is the law, juries may tend to ignore it. In addition, many states have now adopted comparative negligence.

If you are the injured party in a personal injury case, you need to know if your state is under contributory or comparative negligence. This is one of the many reasons why you need a personal injury attorney to represent you.

article written by James Shugart

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