Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence, sometimes referred to as contributory negligence, is a legal rule that requires the determination of the claimant or plaintiff’s level of responsibility for his or her own injuries as well as the establishment of a degree of fault or responsibility for all defendants named in the personal injury claim.

Personal injury claims are governed under state laws. Every state therefore sets the rules for how negligence governs whether or not damages can be awarded in a personal injury case. Negligence rules also affect the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive. Each state’s doctrine of comparative or contributory negligence sets the rules for what degree of responsibility a plaintiff can hold for his or her own injuries and still receive compensation in a lawsuit.

There are currently four comparative or contributory negligence systems utilized in the United States:

  1. Pure Comparative Negligence – under this system the degree of responsibility each part in a holds determines their level of responsibility for damages. For defendants, the percentage of liability decides how much they must pay in damages. For the plaintiff, level of liability reduces the amount of damages received. In other words, if a claimant is 10% responsible for his or her own injuries, only 90% of damages will be awarded.

  2. Pure Contributory Negligence – under this system, if a plaintiff is found to be at all responsible for his or her own injuries, even 1%, no damages can be awarded.

  3. Modified Comparative Negligence with 50% Rule – under the 50% rule, a plaintiff can receive damages, provided he or she is not more than 50% responsible for the injuries suffered, but the amount of damages awarded will be reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s degree of fault. In other words, if the plaintiff is 40% responsible for his or her own injuries, only 60% of damages will be awarded.

  4. Modified Comparative Negligence with 51% Rule – under the 51% rule, damages will be awarded as long as the plaintiff is not more than 51% responsible. The same reduction in damages awarded in relation to degree of fault applies as under the 50% rule.