What Is Comparative Negligence?

Did you know that there is such a thing as comparative negligence? Prior to the 1960’s, only a few states had adopted this system, and while it can be confusing to understand, it’s important to know what it is and how it can affect your case if you’re involved in a personal injury lawsuit. 

What is comparative negligence?

Comparative negligence refers to how fault is divided between two or more parties in an accident or injury. In some cases, the defendant may argue that the plaintiff was partially at fault for the accident, reducing the amount of damages they are awarded. The doctrine is often used as a defense tactic in personal injury cases, where one party sues another for damages from an injury. While laws vary depending on what state you live in, the comparative negligence definition allows the court to apportion blame based on the percentage of fault each party bears. 

  • Comparative negligence allows the court to apportion blame based on the percentage of fault each party bears. 
  • Comparative negligence is often used in personal injury and civil trials as part of a defense strategy by arguing they have less responsibility or shouldn’t be held liable.
  • Comparative negligence laws vary from state to state, with some states having a threshold that the plaintiff must meet to be eligible to recover damages.

What is a comparative negligence example?

One example of comparative negligence would be when the court awards damages accordingly if two parties are involved in an accident, and one injured party is determined to be 60 percent at fault and the other 40 percent at fault. 

In another example, if a plaintiff was awarded $100,000 in damages but were found to be 20% responsible for the accident, they would only receive $80,000. 

  • The comparative negligence doctrine comes into play when the plaintiff’s negligence is found to have contributed to their injury.
  • Under comparative negligence, each party is assigned a percentage of responsibility for the accident. 
  • The percentage of responsibility then reduces the damages awarded to the plaintiff.
  • Comparative negligence is often used in car accidents but can be applied to any personal injury case.

What is pure comparative negligence?

Pure comparative negligence is a variation of the comparative negligence doctrine that will enable plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are more at fault than the defendant. The amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff.

  • For example, if a plaintiff is found to be 60% at fault for an accident, the plaintiff will only be able to recover 40% of the total damages. 
  • Pure comparative negligence is often criticized for being unfair to plaintiffs, as it can eliminate their ability to recover damages if they are even slightly at fault for the accident. 
  • Proponents of the doctrine argue that it is fair because it allows each party to recover damages in proportion to their degree of fault.

What is the difference between contributory versus comparative negligence?

There are two types of negligence: contributory and comparative. 

Contributory negligence is when the plaintiff is injured due to their actions. For example, if the plaintiff was not paying attention and walked into a busy street, they would be held responsible for their injuries. 

On the other hand, comparative negligence is when the plaintiff is partially responsible for their injuries. In this case, the court will compare the actions of both parties to determine who is more at fault. For example, if the plaintiff was walking across the street but not in a crosswalk and was hit by a car, the court may find that the pedestrian was more at fault than the driver.

  • Contributory versus comparative negligence are two legal doctrines used to determine whether or not a plaintiff can recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit. 
  • Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages, even if they were partially at fault for the accident. 
  • Comparative negligence allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if they were partially at fault, but their recovery will be reduced by their degree of responsibility. 

Read More: What Is a Class Action Lawsuit?

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