What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory Negligence

Legal disputes where two parties do not agree on the facts are commonly described as ‘he said she said’ cases, but where a case involves negligence the term ‘his fault / her fault’ may be a more appropriate description.

In cases of negligence, it is up to the injured party (plaintiff) to prove the defendant was at fault. This means showing the defendant had a duty toward the plaintiff, but they acted or failed to act in a certain way which caused harm to the plaintiff. If these elements can all be proven then the defendant can be found to be negligent.

It sounds simple right? But we all know that the events leading up to an incident are not always clear cut. Cases can spiral into a ‘his fault / her fault’ standoff when a defendant refutes liability and claims the plaintiff was partly or wholly to blame for the accident. The legal term for this is contributory negligence.

What does contributory negligence mean?

Contributory negligence means that an injured party shares responsibility for the accident that leads to their injuries.

For example, a passenger is injured in a motor vehicle accident, isn’t wearing a seatbelt and is ejected from the vehicle. In this situation not wearing a seatbelt can be considered a contributing factor to the plaintiff’s injuries and responsibility is therefore shared.

Who must prove contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is a defence put forward by the defendant. It is therefore up to the defendant to prove contributory negligence either fully (completely plaintiff’s fault, no liability for defendant) or partially (plaintiff and defendant share responsibility).

A defendant will need to show that the plaintiff failed to take the standard of care a reasonable person would have taken in the same circumstances. When a court is satisfied of this they will determine to what extent the plaintiff’s actions are responsible for their injuries.

What does a finding of contributory negligence mean?

A finding of contributory negligence can reduce liability of the defendant and consequently the compensation a plaintiff is entitled to. A contributory negligence finding is often given as a percentage depending on the plaintiff’s level of contributory negligence.

For example, contributory negligence of 30% means 30% of the accident and/or resulting injuries is the fault of the plaintiff, while 70% responsibility remains with the defendant. If contributory negligence is found fully (100%), then a plaintiff is deemed completely at fault and the defendant is free from liability.

What effect does a finding of contributory negligence have on damages?

Where a court finds contributory negligence there is a reduction in the damages awarded to the plaintiff. Damages are usually reduced according to the plaintiff’s level of contributory negligence. Using the above example, where contributory negligence of 30% is found, the damages are reduced by 30%.

What does contributory negligence mean for you?

Big insurance companies will often use contributory negligence as a defence and injured parties can find this very intimidating, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent when seeking out much-needed compensation for your injuries.

Taylor & Scott Lawyers have represented countless clients in ‘his fault / her fault’ cases. A dedicated team can review the facts of your case and provide advice on a no win/no fee basis. Even if contributory negligence is found, an expert lawyer can negotiate a much better settlement on your behalf.

At Taylor & Scott, We Care For You.