DiCindio Law LLC | July 10, 2020 | Criminal Law
What Is The Difference Between Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence
In personal injury cases, determining who was at fault for an accident is a key issue. An injured victim cannot sue someone else and recover damages without showing that the person was at fault for causing the accident and injuries.
In some situations, an injured victim will be partly to blame for causing the accident. When the parties share fault, the courts will determine fault based on either comparative or contributory negligence, depending on the state.
Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative negligence rule. Understanding the differences between contributory and comparative negligence is important for people who have been injured in accidents.
Here is what the legal team at DiCindio Law thinks that you should know about comparative negligence and contributory negligence.
Contributory vs. comparative negligence
Contributory and comparative negligence are legal doctrines that affect the ability of a plaintiff to recover damages after he or she has been injured in an accident in which he or she was partially at fault.
The doctrine that will apply depends on the state’s laws. Pennsylvania follows a doctrine called modified comparative fault, which will be explained more below.
Before discussing the doctrine of modified comparative fault, it is first important to define contributory negligence and comparative negligence to understand how they differ from each other.
Historically, injured plaintiffs could not recover damages if they contributed any portion of the fault to an accident. This meant that if a jury determined that a plaintiff was 1% at fault, he or she would be unable to recover damages for his or her losses.
This doctrine is called contributory negligence. Because it is now considered to be too harsh, most states now follow some type of comparative negligence rule.
A majority of states, including Pennsylvania, now use comparative negligence instead of contributory negligence when determining the ability of a plaintiff to recover damages.
Under comparative negligence rules, plaintiffs can recover damages for their injuries. However, their ability to recover compensation will depend on their percentages of fault.
For example, if a jury finds that a defendant is 70% at fault and the plaintiff is 30% at fault, the plaintiff’s award will be reduced by 30%. The states that have adopted the comparative negligence doctrine either follow pure comparative negligence or modified comparative negligence.
Pure comparative negligence
Approximately 25% of the states follow the pure comparative negligence rule. People in these states can recover compensation for their losses to the extent that they were not at fault.
For example, if someone is found to be 25% at fault in a pure comparative negligence state, his or her damages would be reduced by 25%. However, pure comparative negligence states allow plaintiffs to recover compensation even when they were largely to blame for causing their accidents.
For example, if a person is 90% at fault for an accident, he or she could still recover 10% of the damages awarded by a jury. Because of situations like that, Pennsylvania and the majority of states have modified comparative negligence rules.
Modified comparative negligence
A majority of the states have modified comparative negligence laws. In these states, a plaintiff can only recover damages for the percentage of fault that is attributed to the defendant.
However, a plaintiff cannot recover damages if his or her negligence exceeded a threshold. Typically, the threshold beyond which damages will not be recoverable is 50% or 51%.
For example, if a plaintiff files a lawsuit after being injured in an accident and is found to be 40% at fault, he or she will be able to recover 60% of the damages.
By contrast, if the plaintiff is found to be 55% at fault, he or she will not be able to recover compensation for his or her losses. This is because the plaintiff’s percentage of fault exceeded the state’s threshold.
What are Pennsylvania’s laws about negligence?
Under this law, a plaintiff will not be barred from recovering damages simply because he or she contributed fault for his or her accident. However, the plaintiff will not be able to recover damages if his or her negligence exceeds the negligence of the defendant.
This means that plaintiffs in the state cannot recover damages if their percentages of fault exceed 50%. Plaintiffs can only recover damages if their percentages of fault are 50% or less.
In the second section of the statute, the courts are told to reduce the damages that plaintiffs are awarded proportionately to their fault. For example, if a plaintiff is found to be 10% at fault, his or her gross damages award will be reduced by 10%.
The percentage of fault that is attributed to the defendant and the plaintiff will be determined based on the evidence presented at the trial.
How is the percentage of fault of each party determined?
In many personal injury cases, the defendants will try to argue that the plaintiffs were partially at fault for their accidents and injuries. They may argue that the plaintiffs were at least partially to blame to reduce the amount of damages that they might be forced to pay.
Plaintiffs build their cases in such a way to minimize any negligence that they might have contributed to their accidents so that they can try to maximize their compensation.
An attorney at DiCindio Law understands how the courts allocate negligence and can gather evidence to show that the defendant was primarily at fault for causing an accident. The evidence that might be gathered and presented can include photographs, eyewitness testimony, expert testimony, and documents.
Once the evidence has been presented, the court assigns the percentages of fault to the parties. As long as your attorney can prove that the defendant had a greater degree of fault than you, you will recover compensation.
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