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Contributory Negligence

Definition - What does Contributory Negligence mean?

Contributory negligence is the doctrine of common law which states that if a person is injured due in part to their own negligent actions they may not be entitled to collect compensation from another party who may be partially responsible for their injuries.

Most states have eliminated the practice of contributory negligence and now use comparative negligence, which reviews the degree that each party contributed to an accident and reduces the compensation awarded to the plaintiff by the degree of their fault. States which continue to use contributory negligence include Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C.

How does Contributory negligence work?

States which apply a contributory negligence standard will not allow the plaintiff to collect even one dollar if the defendant can prove they were as little as 1% at fault for their own injuries. Some states which apply this theory, however, find that a jury may be reluctant to assign blame to victims because this standard is so harsh and unfair.

Winning a case under contributory negligence

Defendants in a civil injury case in any of the states mentioned above may be able to avoid liability if they can prove the plaintiff contributed to the accident. To prove the plaintiff was negligent, however, the defendant will have to prove the plaintiff failed to show reasonable care to protect their own safety or that of another person.

For example, if you have been involved in a car accident you may be able to prove you do not owe the plaintiff money because their actions contributed to the accident. For example, if you turned right on red and hit a car that was speeding, you could argue their illegal actions contributed to their own injuries.

Common negligent actions include speeding, making sudden lane changes, drunk or reckless driving, or interfering with the driver's safe operation of the vehicle could all be common defenses in a car accident case.

Plaintiffs injured in a state which have contributory negligence laws should talk to a personal injury lawyer immediately. If the defendant can prove the plaintiff was negligent, the plaintiff will not be entitled to any compensation.

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