Contributory And Comparative Negligence: How It Could Affect Your Auto Insurance Claim

Imagine getting into a fender-bender on the open road, only to find out later on that you might receive little to no compensation for the injuries and damages you suffered as a result. If you're wondering why, the answer lies with the doctrines used when evaluating negligence. If your own negligent actions contributed in any way to a crash, you could find your ability to pursue damages significantly reduced or even eliminated.

Understanding the difference between contributory and comparative negligence can help shed some light on your chances of receiving due compensation and prepare you for the court battle ahead.

Understanding Contributory Negligence

According to the basic doctrine of contributory negligence, a driver whose own negligence sets the stage for an accident cannot hold another driver responsible for the collision. Even if the amount of fault assigned to the negligent driver is as little as one percent, the negligent driver will still lose his or her ability to be compensated for any injuries or other damages caused by the accident.

In many cases, contributory negligence still applies even if the other driver was breaking the law at the time of the accident. The doctrine may also apply if the court decides you violated the "last chance doctrine" by failing to take every safe measure available to avoid an accident.

Needless to say, the contributory negligence doctrine can be harsh to drivers who only displayed minimal negligence in regards to their accident. As a result, only four states (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) and the District of Columbia still utilize it when dealing with auto accident cases.

Pure and Modified Comparative Negligence

Most other states rely on the comparative negligence doctrine when dealing with auto accident claims. Unlike contributory negligence, comparative negligence allows most drivers to recover damages depending on the amount of negligence attributed to the involved parties.

Comparative negligence is usually practiced in either pure or modified forms. With pure comparative negligence, an injured party's potential damages can vary depending on the amount of fault assigned to them by the court. For example, if a driver seeks $100,000 in damages but is found 70 percent at fault, that driver will only be able to recover $30,000 in damages. If the other driver seeks the same amount and is deemed 30 percent at fault, that driver will receive $70,000 in damages.

Modified comparative negligence, on the other hand, allows injured drivers to recover damages from the other party as long as they're only responsible for less than 50 percent of the accident due to their own negligence. This means that if you're found over 50 percent at fault for the accident, you won't be able to recover any damages from the other driver.

In some states, the threshold for fault is set at 51 percent. This allows both plaintiff and defendant to recover damages even when both parties were found equally negligent. However, if the court finds one party is over 51 percent responsible or more, the party with the majority of the fault will be completely barred from recovering damages.

Improving Your Chances of Compensation

Your chances of receiving compensation for your injuries and various damages hinges on your ability to successfully establish significant fault on part of the other party. As a defendant, you'll have to show that the plaintiff committed negligent actions that contributed to the accident or failed to take reasonable care to ensure their own safety. The amount of fault you could find yourself saddled with usually depends on the jury's decision based on testimony and other case facts.

Keep in mind that each state also has its own variations and wording in regards to comparative and contributory negligence statutes. It's a good idea to discuss your claims with a seasoned auto accident attorney from a firm like Modesitt Law Offices PC prior to the case.