Comparative and Contributory Negligence


Comparative and contributory negligence are defenses available to mitigate the amount that a defendant may have to pay to a plaintiff for damages. Each of these defenses is based on an assessment of fault towards the plaintiff. Depending upon the laws of the state where the case is brought, one of three different versions of these defenses may be applicable.

comparative and contributory negligence

Contributory Negligence

Pure contributory negligence is by far the most burdensome to the plaintiff, and the least popular among the states. If the defendant proves that the plaintiff is, even in the slightest amount, responsible for the accident, the plaintiff will be completely barred (denied) from recovery.

For instance, suppose that there is evidence which shows the defendant was speeding and went through a stop sign. If the defendant can then prove that the plaintiff was at fault, the plaintiff will be barred from recovery. This may be the case when the plaintiff is only one percent at fault because he or she did not swerve or brake quickly enough. Supplying even one percent of pure contributory negligence could still deny the plaintiff from recovery.

Comparative Negligence

Less burdensome to the plaintiff and most popular among the states are the two different versions of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence and limited comparative negligence.

  • In a “pure” comparative negligence scenario the award of damages to the plaintiff is reduced in direct proportion to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, no matter what the ratio. For instance, if you are deemed to be 30 percent at fault for an accident, you would recover 70 percent of your damages. If you are 80 percent at fault for an accident, you would recover only 20 percent of your damages. All of the other parties alleged to be at fault would then be responsible for paying that 20 percent, divided among them in proportion to the amount of fault assigned to each.
  • In a “limited” comparative negligence scenario, to be able to receive any damages, the plaintiff must be no more than 50 percent liable for the injury. If the plaintiff is no more than 50 percent liable, but is still partially at fault, then the award of damages will be adjusted according to the plaintiff’s proportion of fault. For example, if a jury awards you $100,000 in damages as a result of a car accident, but finds you 30 percent at fault for your injuries because you did not properly use a signal, after applying limited comparative negligence, you would be entitled to $70,000 in damages – $100,000 minus 30 percent.

In the above example, the judge or jury determines the degree of the each party’s negligence and apportions, or assigns, to each party a percentage of the total damages suffered. This percentage directly reflects each party’s percentage of fault for causing your injury. However, under this limited comparative negligence, if you were found to be 51 percent liable, you would collect nothing.

Getting Legal Help

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury, call The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP at 1-800-624-8888 or submit an online questionnaire. The initial consultation is freeof charge, and if we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds.

In most cases a lawsuit must be filed before an “expiration date,” known as a Statute of Limitations. Therefore, it is essential to call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.

    We offer a free case evaluation. You don't pay unless we win you money.

    What Our Clients Say

    "Working with The Rothenberg Law Firm was a very easy and straightforward process. They actually surprised me with the extra time and additional attention to my case. I'd recommend them to anyone."

    Victoria H.
    New York

    “During the course of the litigation there where a number of settlement offers which the firm promptly and dutifully communicated to me and urged me not to accept. They were right. In the end they got me an enormous amount of money for my injuries and loss of earnings; far more than I could have ever imagined.”

    Ed M.