Meaning and Types of Contributory Negligence

Personal injury law can be confusing, and this is amplified, especially when a defense such as contributory negligence is in force. The negligence bar is one of the most essential doctrines in law that may affect the possibility of the plaintiff receiving compensation for injuries sustained in an accident. Therefore, if the plaintiff conclusively contributed to their injuries, they will be precluded from any recovery or damages. 

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence and their differences are concepts that any person in a personal injury case needs to understand. This blog gives an introduction to contributory negligence and looks at how it works and the problems it presents to justice seekers. From this topic, the goal is to make you aware of and prepared for such defensive mechanisms so that you can have a clue on what to do when the law arises and compels you to defend its decisions.

Contributory Negligence Meaning and Doctrine

In personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant was negligent or did not behave reasonably. They will also prove that the defendant’s unreasonable or negligent behavior resulted in the plaintiff’s injury. This is where experts, such as attorney Russell Berkowitz, prove to be valuable guides in understanding this complex process. 

However, successfully proving negligence on the defendant’s part does not necessarily mean the plaintiff will get compensated. The defendant can still raise defenses to liability; contributory negligence is one of these defenses in some states. 

For instance, let us say the plaintiff turned left at a signal without their signal on and got hit by the speeding defendant; they were both negligent in this instance and thus share the blame for the accident.

Contributory negligence often works in the defendant’s favor and can make receiving compensation for injuries challenging for the plaintiff. As a result, most states use comparative negligence rules rather than contributory negligence.

What Does Comparative Negligence Mean?

Comparative negligence is an alternative to contributory negligence, a law common in most states. Unlike contributory negligence, a plaintiff can still obtain compensation under the doctrine of comparative negligence. Even if the plaintiff is partly to blame for the accident, they still get compensated based on their percentage of fault.

For example, in an accident involving a pedestrian and a drunk driver, the pedestrian got hurt because they did not use a crosswalk. In this case, they may share a 10% responsibility for the accident while the driver takes the remaining 90%. Thus, if the pedestrian sustained $15,000 in damages, they could recover $13,500.

Contributory Negligence Types: When Does the Rule Apply?

Contributory negligence only applies in personal injury lawsuits where the plaintiff is partly to blame for their injury. Below are some of the common scenarios where defendants can use a contributory negligence defense:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Wrongful death
  • Dog bites
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents

How to Prove Contributory Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

The plaintiff typically bears the burden of proving negligence on the defendant’s part in personal injury cases. Additionally, the defendant’s negligence must be proven to have been the cause of their injury. As a counter-claim and to avoid liability, the defendant can lodge a contributory negligence defense claim.

To prove contributory negligence, the defense must prove that the plaintiff did not act reasonably and thus contributed to the accident. They will convince the jury that the plaintiff did not do what an average community member would do in similar circumstances.

The jury then decides whether the plaintiff acted reasonably or not, not regarding the latter’s knowledge, awareness, or abilities. If the defendant succeeds, the plaintiff will not be able to get any compensation for damages and losses.


If you were hurt in an accident, contributory negligence might be a factor in your case. You must talk with an experienced personal injury attorney before you file your lawsuit against the at-fault driver. The attorney can help you understand better how the rules work and the likely outcome of the claim.

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