Comparative negligence and contributory negligence have important, yet subtle, distinctions. Each term describes how a person filing a lawsuit for negligence can be accused of contributing to the accident that caused his or her injury. Comparative and contributory negligence can have a major impact on the ability of individuals to file lawsuits against defendants such as property owners, who might rely on insurance coverage to pay for any legal damages.
What is Contributory Negligence?
Contributory negligence is a term that describes a legal defense in a tort case. If a party is accused of being negligent, and if that negligence caused an injury to a plaintiff, then the defending party can assert that the plaintiff, or victim, was actually a cause of his or her injury. In some states, a person who has contributed to their own injury is absolutely barred from winning on a negligence claim. In other states, when a person is shown to be more than 50 percent at fault for the injury, they cannot win on a negligence claim.
Understanding Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence is similar to contributory negligence. In those states with a comparative negligence standard, a person filing a negligence lawsuit can only receive a percentage of his injury costs depending upon how much of his own conduct contributed to the accident. For instance, if a person gets hit crossing a street by a car that was speeding, the jury might find that the plaintiff was negligent because he crossed the street when the light told him not to. The court might conclude that the plaintiff was 40 percent negligent, while the driver was 60 percent negligent. If the plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages, he would only be entitled to $60,000 from the court.
What Are the Practical Implications for Insurance Providers?
Insurance providers should know that states with contributory negligence standards provide some protection against lawsuits. Those states are in the majority, of course, but in those states, the lawsuit risk is much less because plaintiffs can only prevail in court when they have in no way contributed to the accident.
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