What are Contributory and Comparative Negligence?

Cartwright - August 13, 2018 - Car Accidents

When a claim for damages in an accident is filed in court, a judge or jury is responsible for determining who caused the accident. The person who was negligent and caused the accident usually pays for damages in the accident but there are several ways negligence can be determined. In many cases, both drivers actually share negligence for the accident in which case the negligence can be distributed between both responsible parties.

Each state has its own system for establishing damage awards based on negligence. Most states, including California, use some type of comparative negligence doctrine although a few states still use contributory negligence laws. Here’s how comparative and contributory negligence work and how they affect how much you can receive if you are injured in an accident.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Only a few states use a contributory negligence system which bars a plaintiff from recovering anything if they contributed to the accident at all. This means if you are found even 1% at fault for the accident, you cannot collect any damages, even if the other party was 99% negligent.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Most states today use some type of comparative negligence system, including California. This doctrine allows a plaintiff to sue for the share of damages that can be attributed to a defendant. There are three types of comparative negligence systems.

In a pure comparative negligence system, which California uses, a jury or judge assigns each responsible party a percentage of fault and apportions the damages based on each person’s share of fault. This means an injured party can recover damages even if they were 99% at fault. Imagine John and Becky are involved in an accident. John suffers $10,000 in damages in an accident but a jury finds him 99% at fault for the accident. In this example, his award would be reduced by his 99% share of responsibility. Becky would be responsible for paying John just $100, or 1% of the damages.

Most states that use comparative negligence follow a modified comparative negligence doctrine. Under this system, a judge or jury still awards each responsible party a share of fault and the damage award will be reduced accordingly. Modified comparative fault can be based on a 50% rule or a 51% rule.

Under the 50% rule, an injured party may only collect damages if they are found 49% or less at fault. If the injured party is 50% or more at fault, they cannot recover any damages at all. Under the 51% rule, an injured party can only recover damages if their fault is below 51%. Injured parties can still recover damages but they will be reduced based on their share of fault in the accident. If John is found 49% at fault under this rule, he can collect 51% of his damages.

Why Comparative Negligence Matters

It’s important to understand how comparative negligence rules work in California because this system directly impacts how much you can collect if you are hurt due to someone else’s negligence. While you can potentially recover money even if you are found mostly at fault, your damages will be directly reduced for every percentage of share that a judge or jury assigns to you.

This is one reason it’s important to seek experienced legal counsel after an accident. A skilled personal injury lawyer like Robert E. Cartwright can help you build your case and gather evidence to assign responsibility property and help you get the maximum compensation you are owed.

If you have been injured in an accident, even if you were partly to blame, contact The Cartwright Law Firm to schedule a free consultation with Robert E. Cartwright and discuss your case.

For more information on our San Francisco Car Accident Lawyer, please visit our site.


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