Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Following a car accident, many claimants may have the right to file a personal injury claim against another driver who negligently or recklessly caused their car accident injuries. States have various ways of determining how damages should be awarded. In the United States the following methods are used:
  • Pure contributory negligence
  • Pure comparative negligence
  • Modified comparative negligence – 50% bar rule
  • Modified comparative negligence – 51% bar rule
If a personal injury claim is brought before a court, it is up to the judge or the jury to determine who caused the accident and who is responsible for paying for the injured party’s loss or damages. Many times, more than one driver will have contributed to the accident. If this occurs, it is up to the court to determine (following state laws) what percentage of blame should be allocated to each party. The amount of blame or allocation of the negligence will directly determine the amount of damages awarded by the state. Contributory Negligence Contributory negligence has been used for many years as a common law defense against a tort action. Under contributory negligence, the defendant must prove that the injured party was at least partially responsible for the accident and therefore is not allowed to recover damages for their injuries. Currently only five states have a pure contributory negligence system and do not allow the personal injury plaintiff in a car accident claim to recover damages if they are partially at fault for their own injuries. These states include: Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. All of the other states have moved away from this method of determining compensation. Comparative Negligence Under the comparative negligence system the injured party may be able to receive compensation for their injuries, even if it is determined that their actions were partially to blame for the accident. The amount of compensation the plaintiff can receive may be reduced based on their level of responsibility for the accident. Comparative negligence states have 3 different methods for calculating compensation:
  • Pure Comparative Negligence
Under the pure comparative negligence system, the judge or the jury will review the evidence of the case and determine the amount of fault which should be assigned to all of the parties involved in the accident. After fault is assigned, the damages are awarded accordingly. Under this system, an injured party may recover some compensation even if the court determines they are up to 99% responsible for the accident. States which currently use a pure comparative negligent system include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence – 50% rule
Under the modified comparative negligent system the judge and jury will assess the percentage of fault for each party in the accident and the damages will be awarded according to this assignment, but under the 50% rule, any injured party who is 50% or more responsible for the accident will be barred from receiving damages. The following states use the Modified Comparative Negligence – 50% rule. These states include: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence – 51% rule
Under the modified comparative negligence – 51% rule the judge and jury will determine the percentage of fault for each party and assign damages, but if any party is found to be more than 51% at-fault for the accident, they are barred from recovering damages. The following states use a modified comparative negligence – 51% rule for assessing damages in a car accident injury claim: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer The information provided above is a guideline. For more information about how damages are assessed in your state for a personal injury claim or whether or not you have the legal right to file a claim, consult a personal injury lawyer. Many states have implemented no-fault laws which may bar or limit the right of certain plaintiffs to file personal injury claims following a car accident. Some states have monetary limits which must be reached; others may require the injured party to suffer certain types of injuries.