Comparative and Contributory Negligence: What’s the Difference?

Comparative and Contributory Negligence

When someone is injured in an accident, one of the first issues that must be resolved is who is at fault for the accident. This can get complicated if the facts reveal that the plaintiff may have contributed to his or her own injuries. The determination of who is at fault (and how much) can also affect the damages that can be awarded to the injured party.

When more than one party is at fault for an accident, the court may turn to one of two theories of fault – comparative negligence and contributory negligence – to decide how to allocate fault and determine how that will affect any damages to be awarded. Whether contributory or comparative negligence is applied is dependent on state law.

Contributory Negligence

States that follow a contributory negligence theory have established that if the plaintiff bears any responsibility whatsoever for the accident, the plaintiff may not recover any damages at all. This means that if the plaintiff is found to be even 1% responsible for his or her own accident or injuries, the plaintiff cannot receive any compensation whatsoever, even if the plaintiff has sustained severe injuries. This rule is followed by only a handful of the states in the United States.

Comparative Negligence

In many states with comparative fault statutes, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by the percentage of fault the finder of fact allocates to the plaintiff for the accident. These states have determined that the plaintiff’s compensation for an injury should be reduced in proportion to the degree of fault the plaintiff bears for the accident. For example, if the plaintiff is found 20% at fault for the accident, the amount he or she would receive in compensation for his or her injuries would be reduced by 20%. 

But there are differences in the way that comparative fault states apply the theory. Some states are considered pure comparative negligence states, while others are modified comparative negligence states.

Pure Comparative Negligence

In a pure comparative negligence state, the plaintiff can be compensated for an injury in direct proportion to their fault for the accident, as noted in the example above, even if the plaintiff bears the majority of responsibility for the accident. As a result, even if the plaintiff were found to be 90% responsible for his or her own accident, the plaintiff would be able to recover 10% of his or her damages from the opposing party. Florida is one example of a state that follows the theory of pure comparative negligence.

Modified Comparative Negligence

By contrast, in a modified comparative negligence states, if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50% (or in some cases 51%) responsible for the accident, the plaintiff may not receive any recovery at all. In other words, the plaintiff will not receive any compensation for his or her injuries in a modified comparative negligence state unless the opposing party was equally at fault or more at fault for the accident than the plaintiff.

If you have been involved in an accident and believe you may be found at least partially at fault for the accident and resulting injuries, it is imperative that you speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer in your area who can investigate the case, help to prove the defendants were responsible for the accident, and maximize your recovery in the case. Use our site to post information about your case and we’ll help you locate a qualified lawyer near you who can help.

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Posted - 12/28/2020