Contributory and Comparative Negligence in An Accident

In a case of an accident, the party at fault in causing the accident typically pays for the damages that result from the accident. Some states follow the contributory negligence or comparative negligence law when more than one person causes an accident. It determines the extent of which each party is at fault and the amount each party pays for the injuries and damages.

Contributory Negligence

When a person fails to act reasonably, and an injury occurs, he or she may be held partially or completely responsible for the injuries, even if another party was involved in the accident. Contributory negligence means that the injured parties’ negligence contributed to the accident.
When injured party files a claim for negligence, the other party (the defendant) can also file a contributory negligence claim against the injured person (plaintiff), if they are partially at fault in causing the accident. If the defendant proves contributory negligence, the plaintiff may be completely barred from recovering damages, or the damages may be reduced according to the extent of fault in contributing to the accident.

Comparative Negligence

A comparative negligence approach to contributory negligence has been adopted by most states. Contributory negligence was viewed as a total bar to the recovery of any damages when someone’s negligence contributed to the accident. So in attempt to reduce unfair outcomes from this approach more states are now adopting a comparative negligence approach.
In comparative negligence each party’s negligence in causing the injury is weighed to determine the damages. There are three approaches used in comparative negligence:

Pure Comparative Negligence

In pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s damages are totaled and then reduced according to the percentage of fault in contributing to the injury. For example, if a plaintiff’s total damages are $100,000 and the plaintiff was 25% responsible for his or her injury, he or she will be awarded $75,500.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Modified Comparative Negligence one of the most commonly used approaches. The plaintiff must not be more than 50% at fault, in order to recover damages. In other words, the plaintiff cannot recover damages if found equally responsible or more than 51% responsible for causing the accident.

Slight/Gross Negligence

This approach is practiced in one state, South Dakota. In slight/gross negligence, the plaintiff’s degrees of fault are compared only when the defendant’s negligence is considered “gross” the plaintiff’s negligence is considered “slight,”. If a plaintiff’s fault is more than “slight,” he or she is barred from recovering any damages.

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