Differences Between Contributory and Comparative Negligence

Injuries occur all the time in California and throughout the US. In some cases, injuries are caused by the careless or negligent actions of others, and victims are able to recover compensation for their losses. However, there are times when liability for an injury is not so clear. Sometimes, more than one party shares fault for an injury, including the injury victim themselves. In these situations, awarding compensation can be challenging, but states in this country usually handle these incidents through “contributory negligence” or “comparative negligence” laws. How a state handles the issue of “fault” really does matter, and we want to compare these two systems.

Understanding Contributory Negligence

When we look back at older laws used in this country, we can see that contributory negligence was regularly employed as a method for determining fault. In fact, the contributory negligence doctrine originated in English common law and was originally designed to cut down on fraudulent claims. Under contributory negligence systems, individuals cannot recover any compensation if they share any fault at all for causing their own injury. Even if it were deemed that a person was only 1% responsible for causing their injury, they would be completely barred from recovering compensation.

The contributory negligence system has been viewed as an incredibly harsh way to deal with injury claims, and most states have done away with this method. However, there are still various states in the country that do use contributory negligence when determining fault.

Understanding Comparative Negligence

Most jurisdictions in the United States have moved towards a comparative negligence system. Under comparative negligence laws, injury victims can still recover compensation even if they are partially at fault for their injury. In general, we will find that there are two types of comparative negligence laws in the US:

  • Pure comparative negligence. In a pure comparative negligence system, the injury victim’s damages will be totaled and then reduced to reflect their percentage of fault for the incident. For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in damages, but it is discovered that they are 10% at fault for the incident, then they would receive $90,000 instead of the full $100,000. Under pure comparative negligence laws, individuals can be awarded compensation even if they are up to 99% at fault for their own injuries.
  • Modified comparative negligence. In a modified comparative negligence system, injured individuals will typically not be able to recover compensation if they are found to be 50% or 51% or more responsible for their injuries. In other words, injury victims will typically only be able to recover compensation if they are found to be less than 50% at fault for the incident.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If you or somebody you care about has been injured in an accident caused by the careless or negligent actions of someone else, you need to work with an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can use their resources to gather the evidence necessary to determine liability. One of the most common tactics used by insurance carriers is to try to place some or all of the blame for the incident on the injury victim. In California, this state operates under a pure comparative negligence system, and an attorney will work to properly assign liability in order to help their client recover more compensation for their injuries.