Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence in California

  • October 02, 2019
  • Blog

Understanding the differences between comparative versus contributory negligence is important, as it’s fundamental to proving your personal injury claim.

Our California personal injury attorneys will explain.

California follows the legal principle of comparative negligence, which is dramatically different than contributory negligence.

Only a handful of states still follow the rule of contributory negligence, which is rather harsh.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is the older of the two legal doctrines. Its history dates back to common law in England. The first time the doctrine came up was in an employment law setting where employers attempted to defend themselves against injury lawsuits being presented by workers. The doctrine’s main intent was to cut down on fraudulent claims or careless conduct.

The term contributory negligence refers to the premise that someone who negligently causes harm to another party is not responsible in the event the injured party was also negligent in any way. It means that contributory negligence completely bars recovery of any damage on the part of the plaintiff in any jurisdiction that follows the rule of contributory negligence.

Because of its harsh nature, several states have moved away from contributory negligence and opted to follow the rule of comparative negligence that uses a system of allocation.

Right now, only four states and the District of Columbia follow pure contributory negligence. These four states are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.

An example of contributory negligence would be someone running the red light and striking your vehicle, but you weren’t wearing your seat belt. If not wearing your seat belt was determined to be a partial cause of your injuries, then you could wind up not receiving any compensation for your damages. Even if the other party was deemed to be 95% at fault and you only 5% at fault, then you are still barred from receiving any compensation.

Before states enacted workers’ compensation laws, employers could rely on the doctrine of contributory negligence to fend off the lawsuits brought forth by their employees.

In most cases, workers were usually unsuccessful in their claims because very few employees could prove that their injuries were not at least partially their own fault.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence has two different types, pure comparative and modified comparative.

Under comparative liability, you can still collect a portion of your damages even if you shared some fault for the accident. A few states in the country follow the legal principle of pure comparative negligence, including California.

In states that follow pure comparative negligence, someone can only recover compensation up to the extent he or she was not responsible for their own injuries. For example, if a jury finds someone to be 20% responsible for their own injuries and they were awarded $100,000, they would only receive 80% of the award, or $80,000. The reduction is the plaintiff’s proportionate responsibility.

One main downside with pure comparative is that the defendant who was largely responsible for your injuries can still collect as well. Using the same example above, the plaintiff who received 80% of his or her damages would then be responsible for 20% of the defendant’s damages. Even someone who was 99% responsible for your injuries would be entitled to recover 1% of their damages.

In order to rectify this problem, some states have adopted a similar doctrine called modified comparative negligence. Most states follow modified comparative, which says you can still collect for a portion of your damages if you were at fault, but your fault cannot exceed a certain threshold.

The rule is usually either 50% or 51%. For states that use the 50% threshold, the plaintiff could only recover damages provided they were 49% at fault or less. If they were 50% at fault, there would be no recovery. If the state follows the 51% threshold, then someone who is 50% at fault would still recover because it’s under 51%. If you are the plaintiff and the court determines that you are 55% at fault, you are barred from recovery and the defendant could collect on 45% of their damages.

There are 12 states that follow the 50% threshold, including Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. The remaining 21 states follow the 51% threshold rule.

How to Maximize Compensation in Your California Personal Injury Claim

Proving fault in your California personal injury claim is the best way to maximize your compensation. However, if you attempt to handle the claim on your own, you may not be nearly as successful. You need a skilled California personal injury attorney on your side.

They can also explain the main differences between contributory negligence vs. comparative negligence if you still have additional questions.

Your attorney will work tirelessly to prove the liability of the other party to maximize your potential recovery. The sooner you retain an attorney, the sooner he or she can get started on your case. This includes collecting evidence and opening an investigation.

There may be a need to retain experts to help your case, and your attorney likely has an entire portfolio of respected individuals who he or she can call depending on the need. Some common experts can include accident reconstructions, medical doctors, investigators, subject-matter experts, and more. They can provide additional proof that will build a strong case. If evidence shows the defendant was 100% liable, then you are entitled to 100% of your damages.

Hire a California Personal Injury Attorney

At Levinson Law Group, our skilled California personal injury attorneys are committed advocates for you. Our team has the necessary skills and extensive experience to handle a wide range of personal injury claims.

To set up a free, no obligation review of your case, please contact Levinson Law Group today. We have offices conveniently located in Oceanside and Carlsbad and serve communities throughout the region, including San Diego, Encinitas, Vista, Escondido, and San Marcos.

Don’t attempt to handle your injury claim on your own. Let us handle the arduous process of negotiating your personal injury claim while you concentrate on getting better and returning back to work and your daily life.

Contact our office today to schedule your free initial consultation.