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Understanding Your Personal Injury Case: What is Contributory Negligence?

August 17, 2020 in Personal Injury Litigation

Although largely outdated, the concept of contributory negligence is still widely used. Many people may not understand precisely what it means, but the concept addresses what happens when an accident victim’s own negligence contributed to the accident. Defendants will often attempt to avoid liability by arguing that the accident would not have happened if not for the injured person’s own negligence. The issue can quickly complicate your case, but an experienced, knowledgeable San Luis Obispo personal injury lawyer can help you understand how it may impact your claim and the compensation you are entitled to receive. 

The History of Contributory Negligence

As mentioned above, contributory negligence considers what role the plaintiff’s negligence may have played in causing their injury. Historically, contributory negligence was an absolute bar against recovery. In other words, if your own negligence contributed to the accident in any way, you would not be able to receive any compensation for your injuries. 

An example may be helpful. Let’s say that you are driving home to see your children before they go to bed. You’re anxious about missing them, so you are speeding. While passing through an intersection, you are struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light and seriously injured. Under the traditional doctrine of contributory negligence, you would arguably not be entitled to any compensation for your injuries due to the fact that you were speeding. 

Comparative Negligence

Recognizing the harsh and unfair result that contributory negligence forced in cases such as the example above, most states have adopted more equitable doctrines, typically referred to as comparative negligence. Some states follow what is referred to as a modified comparative negligence rule, which prohibits people from receiving compensation if they were 50% or more responsible for the accident. 

California follows what is referred to as the pure comparative negligence rule. This means that you can recover compensation even if you were more than 50% responsible for the accident and your injuries. 

How Comparative Negligence Works

Comparative negligence reduces your claim in the amount your own negligence contributed to the accident. Using the example above, let’s say your claim was worth $100,000.00. At trial, the jury decides that because you were speeding, your negligence contributed 10% to the cause of the accident. By operation of the comparative negligence rule, your claim would therefore be reduced by 10% or $10,000, and you would be awarded $90,000 in damages. 

Again, keep in mind that California follows the pure comparative negligence rule. As a result, the drunk driver is arguably entitled to 10% if he were to pursue a claim against you.

Why You Need a San Luis Obispo Personal Injury Lawyer

Insurance companies will often blame you for the accident as a way to avoid liability. Comparative negligence involves incredibly complex factual issues that an experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to address. They can help you build a strong case supporting your claim and rebut any assertion that your own negligence prohibits you from receiving compensation. In addition, they can also provide a candid assessment of your case and an estimate of what your claim may be worth. 

Injured? Contact San Luis Obispo Personal Injury Lawyer Earl A. Conaway, III

Don’t let someone else tell you what your claim is worth. You need someone on your side who knows the law and knows what you are entitled to. Even if you think you may be partly to blame, if you’ve been injured, you may be entitled to compensation. To discuss your case and how we can help, call us today at (805)546-8797 for a free consultation.

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